ASL Interpreting for Video Assets

In considering how to provide the best access for video products in your next conference, you might be wondering how to hire an interpreter. Plenty of agencies will sell you the idea that they’re experts in the space but when you transition from shooting the content to editing, the bill suddenly goes up.

Most agencies don’t know anything about production, timelines, expectations on set or anything about the editing process. It’s rare to receive a well rounded quote from the larger players because they only work on an hourly basis which can be incredibly costly when last minute changes happen. The costs can pile up from the cancellation charges, urgent requests and tight turn arounds. It’s important to work with an entertainment interpreting agency with an expertise in interpreting on set and in production.

Daily rate production interpreting

Interpreting in a production setting requires intimate knowledge of what it takes to produce and distribute accessible content. Experts in this arena will tell you that charging an hourly rate will increase the costs to clients exponentially. This is due to ignorant interpreting agencies attempting to practice outside of their scope.

A daily rate for interpreting services will retain services and allow flexibility for when things change on set last minute and require updates to the schedule. Daily rates are also incredibly helpful for working in editing as often post production interpreting services are needed sporadically and not on an hourly basis. Billing for hourly production interpreting limits the client to a specific schedule with an increase in fee should the interpreter need to be called back.

Video editing interpreting

Often interpreters are needed to interpret or translate videos for other projects. Charging these on a per project basis is ideal as the client is given a range and can better forecast all expectations before making a final decision in hiring services. Interpreters with a background in video editing and with knowledge of products like Premiere Pro, VideoLeap and .io applications reduces the amount of time wasted to account for a learning curve. Sending any available interpreter to a project in order to land a contract is often a far heavier burden on the production budget than it is to find an expert and send them the first time.

ASL captioning and subtitling

Creating SRT files for content in ASL can often be a challenge and it’s not always evident where to find services. Many agencies will provide an interpreter who has never done this things and will bill preparation time then used for that ASL provider to learn the process. Working with Deaf captioner and Deaf transcribers can often speed up the process and reduce the amount of the final invoice. It is incredibly important to find people who are experts in ASL transcription and captioning ASL content in order to create the best final product possible.

Music Concert Interpreting

Often when clients are looking for a music interpreter, they’re not sure where to begin. While a quick web search will pull up thousands of results, most of what you’re seeing in those lists are agencies who have a wide web presence.

Here’s a few things about the viral Deaf interpreter you saw on TikTok last week and the other hearing interpreters that you’re mistaking for talented.

ASL Interpreting for Music

Many agencies talk about their ability to staff for large events like concerts and music festivals but still don’t know the first thing about interpreting on stage. When they source ASL interpreters for a music festival, they rely on the person they think might vibe with the music the most. They rarely do their homework to find the interpreter who can do the best interpreting in the music industry. Those people are often Deaf performers and Deaf interpreters.

The process bu which interpreting happens is usually through a system involving interpreting mic pacs or FM systems, preparation with lyrics and multiple meetings of the interpreting team for the music performer to ensure that all needs are met. It is only by doing our due diligence that we can provide an accurate interpretation of any artistry happening on stage. The idea that an artistic sign language interpreter from a hearing background can somehow handle a show on their own, is simply misleading.

The Myth of the Viral ASL Music Interpreter

When you see the videos with thousands if not millions of views of interpreters, it’s easy to be amused by their presence online and their animation. What many folks looking for an ASL interpreter don’t realize is that the wide majority of them are hearing and do not represent Deaf talent within the community.

As a company that centers our clients in every sense, we work incredibly hard to enable entrance to the stage for the wider Deaf community. We bring Deaf performers and Certified Deaf Interpreters to every music gig we accept. Within those bookings, we supply a feeding or supporting interpreter to ensure access while keeping the community we service in the spotlight.

We always want to ensure that the voice of the Deaf community is seen loud and clear in these spaces. Together, we can increase representation while keeping the interpreting process available and accessible to all.

Making Virtual Interpreting Successful

Here at Flamingo Interpreting, we do a ton of entertainment interpreting in New York and Los Angeles. We’re considered leaders and experts in the entertainment industry and have loved working in press circuits, junkets and on set for years to support projects in the Deaf community. When people see our work interpreting on the red carpet, they often don’t imagine that we spend the majority of our time interpreting on Zoom. Yet, we do.

Interpreting in the Pandemic

We were all forced onto Zoom when Covid really hit but for many American sign language interpreters, we already had years of experience interpreting on the platform. Many translators have used the service in order to connect and prepare translated documents with their colleagues. In group settings like this, many of us figured out the strengths and weaknesses, along with our clients pain points.

With that, we’ve compiled some common questions our clients have approached us with over the years. While interpreting consulting has always been a strong arm of our services, even we were surprised to find how many of our colleagues spent the majority of their time educating clients on the platform. To save you some time in your next meeting, check out our answers to common questions here!

What does it take to make an interpreted Zoom meeting successful?

Being comfortable with an interpreter in the room is often the first step. It’s important to know that you’re being joined by a team member who is there to provide a service in a unique role. Our work is to make communication smooth, not derail your agenda. While we don’t want to make ourselves the focus, it’s good to know that we’re there and will be participating on some level.

Do I need to announce the presence of an interpreter on Zoom?

This answer largely depends on the demands of the environment and the relationships of the participants. While some larger events are assumed to have access, if your intention is to alert the Deaf attendees that access is being provided you can trust the professional you’ve hired to find them. Considering they would be interpreting your announcement either way, you can leave the responsibility of connecting with the participants utilizing their services to them.

Should we name the interpreters something special?

Simply, no. Some interpreters prefer their full name, some just a first name. Many interpreters will add [ASL interpreter] ahead of their name. It largely varies on how you’ve hired them. Some agencies require their interpreters to follow a specific format. We don’t. As a collaborative, we trust the interpreters and translators working remotely to use their professional judgement.

Do I need to spotlight them?

Again, this widely varies. For webinars, it’s always helpful for the interpreters to have spotlight privileges in order to team and support one another as they turn their video on and off. Allowing interpreters all of the access a host would will reduce the chances of unnecessary interruptions and delays. There’s nothing worse than hearing the host of a meeting announce a pause and something to the effect of “let’s just get this interpreter spotlit, I guess they switched”. Do yourself a favor and just let the experts in the room handle the controls that will impact their ability to perform.

Do I need captions?

No. In many cases you don’t need them but considering there is no additional fee for automatic captions, why not keep it turned on. This will eliminate the need for participants to reach out and request it, bogging down your inbox or chat feature. If you leave it on from the beginning, you’re just providing an additional option for greater accessibility. When you don’t have it turned on but need to change that, you’ll need to quit the meeting and restart it to activate the feature.

Should I hire a captioner?

Absolutely. While captions on Zoom are free, nothing beats a live captioner for accuracy. If you believe what you are sharing is important, respect that and yourself but ensuring it’s landing with your audience. Captioners can provide more clarity to communication that might otherwise leave audiences confused with automatic captioned features.

Can I send them a transcript of the meeting?

You absolutely can, but it’s better to send them a recording. Also, if you have a note take who has some notes from the meeting, you can round out the final take aways. Often our clients want to take notes in there meetings but find themselves needing to focus on the interpreter to ensure they’re not missing any information. That means that writing down a few bullet points might not be the best use of their time. However, if you can share any notes or minutes in addition to the recording, you can be sure they’ll have a better picture of anything they might have missed.

What else should I know?

You should ask the service user. Folks in the disabled community know more about their needs than any consultant or interpreter could ever guess. Often, the best way to find what would work well for them is just to ask them. Allowing them to lead the charge in accessibility is a sure way to be confident you’ve not overlooked any potential accommodations or options.

With these tips you should be able to execute and reflect on a successful virtual meeting with an interpreter. As always, if you need interpreting services virtually or interpreting in the metaverse, reach out to us by phone or email!

Best of luck in Zoomland!

Nyle DiMarco New York Times Best Selling Author

Nyle DiMarco’s new book “Deaf Utopia” has now reached the New York Times Best Seller list, landing at number thirteen on the non-fiction list.

Nyle DiMarco spent five years compiling stories for his new book Deaf Utopia. In it, he describes how his childhood as a fourth generation Deaf man in an entirely Deaf family supported his success throughout life. He describes his mother as his biggest hero and recounts the struggles and triumphs his family has experienced over the last four generations.

His family originates in Sicily where his great-grandfather made the decision to immigrate to the United States. From there, his family settled in New York before his mother’s search for the best education available would lead them to explore Texas and Maryland where his mother now lives.

Throughout his teens, his mother exhausted every effort to provide her three boys with an incredible education but the stories of the obstacles she was met with along the way were simply too compelling to leave out of the book.

His book outlines his sexuality and his journey to finding himself along with a few salacious stories of what that brought along in his career in tinseltown. Deaf Utopia hit shelves last week and within it’s first week has already landed it on the NYT best sellers list.

Nyle DiMarco Oscar Nomination

Nyle DiMarco was recently nominated as a producer on the short documentary “Audible” housed on Netflix.

While the film didn’t take home a trophy, it won over the hearts of America, comparing it with the fiction of “CODA” which took home the award for best picture. Hollywood execs are now welcoming a new challenge from Nyle DiMarco to push representations forward not only on screen but behind the camera as well. “I am challenging Hollywood to not only focus on representation on screen but understand that authenticity can only happen when Deaf people are invited behind the camera lens. We need to see them in Director’s chairs and writers rooms.” he told his ASL Interpreter Greyson Van Pelt.

Greyson Van Pelt and Nyle DiMarco have worked together for almost five years exclusively.

American Sign Language Interpreters in Buffalo New York

Years ago Greyson Van Pelt interpreted American sign language at the University of Buffalo for then President and Nyle DiMarco.

Nyle DiMarco visited the University of Buffalo to deliver a speech titled “Living Out Loud” explaining how his work in advocacy for the Deaf community is building bridges. He is filling in the gaps in the entertainment industry along with supporting new awareness of language deprivation globally.

Nyle brought along an interpreter from Flamingo Interpreting to interpret his speech including a fifteen minute question and answer with the audience.

There were other incredible interpreters at the University of Buffalo who interpret American sign language and English in the twin tier region as well as the larger city of Buffalo. One of the American Sign Language Interpreters was from Rochester, New York and studied at the National Technical Institute of the Deaf (NTID).

Nyle DiMarco New Book ‘Deaf Utopia’ is Out Now!

Nyle DiMarco announced the release of his new book which can be found wherever books are sold or online through http://www.harpercollins.com

Today he made an appearance on Cheddar TV’s “Between Bells” with Baker Machado. Check out this excerpt where he breaks down his challenge to the industry. Not only does he believe representation in front of the camera matters but is also pushing to see more inclusion and access in writers rooms and directors chairs.

Nyle is an Advocate for the community but also a Academy Award Nominated producer, creating two docu-series on Netflix. He is currently in the process of creating more film and television content.


Check out the full interview here…

https://t.co/ZW0oBYI4SE

American Sign Language Interpreting at the Academy Awards!

Who’s That Interpreter at the Oscars??

It might have been us!

While we know a thing or two about award shows, there’s simply no amount of practice that can ready an interpreter for the Oscars. The last time we saw an interpreter take the stage was 35 years ago when Marlee Matlin first won her Oscar for her performance in Children of a Lesser God. This year, we dove in to provide accessibility at the Oscars and were thrilled to see talent on the red carpet was well taken care of.

This year was historic and incredible partly due to the incredible interpreting teams that supported projects like CODA & Audible. One of our very own interpreters, Elena Lee was an on-set interpreter for CODA while filming in Glaucester, Mass. Grey Van Pelt, Connor Murray & Richard Loya all contributed to the editing and revisions of Audible with countless other interpreters playing important roles surrounding these projects.

Interpreting on the red carpet!

We had the chance to support some of the interpreting at the Oscars Luncheon, Ted Sarandos’ Oscar toast event and of course the Academy Award ceremony followed by Netflix’s after party at the Bungalows in Beverly Hills followed by Vanity Fair’s afterparty. We truly were everywhere.

HOLLYWOOD, CA – March 27, 2022. Nyle DiMarco and Matt Ogens arrives at the 94th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood on Sunday, March 27, 2022. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

From the red carpet to the stage, it was hard to look anywhere and not see an working sign language interpreter.

Mak McClindon interpreting for Amaree – star of Audible on Netflix & Serena Williams

Our very own Mak McClindon was there every step of the way with the cast of Audible, nominated for Best Short Documentary. Audible is now available streaming on Netflix!

American Sign Language at the Oscars

The interpreters from the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony were truly there to witness history as we saw Sign Language represented in five categories of nominations but also… Troy Katsur winning best supporting actor, making him the second Deaf person to ever win an Oscar and the first Deaf male to ever win an Academy Award.

We saw CODA’s director win best adapted screenplay, based on the French original. A thrilling win for Siân Héder!

We also saw CODA take home the award for best picture, an incredible milestone for the Deaf community.

As Nyle DiMarco has mentioned in numerous interviews – this is a watershed moment. We’re so thrilled to see the landscape of Hollywood begin to shift as more and more Deaf stories are not just being told but being lauded as the incredible content they are.

We’re also thrilled to see an increase in interpreted accessible content in Hollywood. We hope to see more qualified interpreters with an interest in this work, begin to enter the specialty. We also hope more people will learn American sign language from the exciting projects like CODA & Audible.

BeYounionized

#BeYounionized.

For years our industry has reconciled with multiple concessions made by our colleagues as a whole when working in the video relay service industry. This push is by and large due to the sustainability of the work. Corporations are aware of how much stability they can offer to interpreters who are otherwise freelancing without resources. Core to the mission, Foundations in Freelance was created as a way to offer those resources to the community to drive independence by providing leverage to the sole practitioner. While resources are spreading, the industry in its current state is largely in the hands of VRS providers.

As an industry, we are now facing the prospect of a video interpreters union at arguably the best provider in the market – Convo Communications. This union known as Video Interpreters United Video Interpreters United arrives with the potential to change everything we know as video interpreters processing calls. It is challenging the status-quo and offering an improved future to the industry as a whole.

The conversation has been had time and time again: to many of the major relay providers interpreters are not people, they are numbers. For over twenty years interpreters worked to develop a system that would satisfy two demands: a Deaf community’s needs and a hearing company’s bottom line. As interpreters often are, they were forgotten when things went right. In 2009 Convo Relay was formed to introduce a new world of VRS, one that was designed around the needs of its Deaf consumers with interpreters given the freedom to be themselves. Their interpreters were given license outside of anything the industry was offering at the time. Not only was their workforce respected but often praised publicly for showing up, doing the work and investing in a sense of community with their callers. It was evident that the driving force of Convo’s rapid growth was its exceptional pool of interpreters who took pride in being a part of a revolution. Convo offered a breath of fresh air to many interpreters who had written off VRS work entirely. As a company, they brought in talent that would have been otherwise off-limits to a provider. This move alone shifted the way many of our colleagues saw the VRS industry. Suddenly it became clear that the system wasn’t the problem, the players were. Convo was at the forefront of building a more accessible future both for their Deaf consumers and for interpreters interested in retiring uninjured. Wayne Betts one of the founders noted in their first press release on launching the service “We also plan to create an unique experience for our team members and giving them the opportunity to grow on the job. It’s all about creating a positive and progressive atmosphere for our team.” [Horowitz, Convo Relay 2009][1]

From their inception, they dreamed of a place where interpreters could thrive.

It was these benefits that brought me to Convo in 2017. I had watched my colleagues recount time and time again how fantastic their job was. They often remarked that they couldn’t believe how different VRS could be. They worked with exceptional interpreters who spent their days discussing the work and how they could further develop their skill. It was no secret in the community that Convo was difficult to get into. Everyone talked about the intensity of their screenings. You didn’t just have to be good, you had to be the best. Nobody ‘deserved’ a spot in their centers, it was earned in the field. I spent a couple years building my skills at Sorenson before finally making the transition in 2017 in New York as the Manhattan office on the upper east side was opening. After spending years in the worst job I had ever been in, I had finally landed my dream job. I reflected on the countless shifts I’d spend calculating the days left until I could apply to work at Convo and realize my full potential. My first week alone made the sacrifice more than worth it. In fact, I remember telling the training manager my first day “I plan to retire here”. I left in 2019.

 

Like so many other interpreters who followed me, I felt like a failure. I so desperately wanted to stay with Convo forever. I still miss my cubicle, my colleagues, but most of all, the callers. I was lucky enough to start with the company when I could really connect with the callers. I had gotten to know them over time and in turn they knew me, often giving me subtle cues of how to best process a specific call for them. I think about their experience now. So many of my fellow practitioners are working tirelessly to give them the best quality they can. While VRS has always had limitations, the company I once worked for believed in pushing the boundaries of tradition in favor of its customer.

With the knowledge of pressures placed on interpreters in a VRS setting, Convo built a much better model. Protections were in place for interpreters who felt overworked or overwhelmed. They truly believed that healthy interpreters were integral to the quality of call processing. That support created a new experience for callers. For the first time, they could trust that any interpreter processing a call for the service would be present, connected and transparent in communication. The collaboration they had built into their internal processes directly influenced the quality that callers felt from the comfort of their homes. From every angle, the work they were doing was revolutionary and it was all centered around healthy, happy interpreters.

Matt Salerno, one of the founding members of VIU reminds us that “A VI can offer their best self to callers if they are working in an environment that supports them. As an industry, we recognize research showing that VRS settings have quantifiably higher health risks due to chronic stress under the current system.” Given the amount of stress and burnout interpreters are reporting in the industry, it’s easy to question where the needs of their callers fall in priority. In a perfect world, the industry would function in a way that serves the needs of all three parties involved without detriment to anyone. Yet, the reality of it’s current state paints a much different picture. From an interpreting perspective, it seems that the reality Convo interpreters are facing is a far departure from their origin. 

"Since its inception Convo has been a safe haven for interpreters from other providers to come to. Many of the issues we face like scheduling and unhealthy performance expectations, apply to us all regardless of the provider we work for. Broadly we hope to see action taken by VRS providers that genuinely invest in the longevity of the VI workforce. Our goal is to engage VRS companies to do better by showing the world what stands to be gained by allowing their employees to thrive."

– James Wilder 

For decades, interpreters manning the call centers connecting our community have looked to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) to no avail. In fact, efforts to unionize via communication channels created by the organization allegedly created and funded (by interpreters) to support interpreters have been shut down. In 2020 RID received approval from the NLRB to restrict their ability to use organization sanctioned channels to improve their working conditions. That decision by the board directly contradicted the administrative law judge’s (ALJ) recommendations, overturning what had previously been seen as a victory for the worker.

 

While ironic that an organization in operation solely by the work of interpreters would limit their ability to thrive and earn a decent living it’s certainly not surprising when you consider the VRS industry has been in the same positioning since it’s inception. The one striking difference? RID is a nonprofit established to serve the needs of its members regardless of employment status.

 

 

When the very organization responsible for credentialing, lobbying for improved standards and compliance has turned its back on practitioners in the field, very few options seem politically charismatic. This is why Convo as an organization was so notable in their arrival. With a clear vision paved for the future of VRS and a hungry customer base, it seemed that we were experiencing the next shift within our industry. A shift most interpreters would declare a positive success.

The founders of Convo had a clear vision for the company and like any startup, they were met with unexpected obstacles they needed to work around. While their ability to quickly roll out changes is to their credit, it’s important to note that interpreter’s ability to adapt to sudden changes is what they’re best known for. With changes happening so quickly within a startup, the other priorities like happy, healthy people can start to fall down the list. With new updates and changes happening practically overnight, it’s no surprise that interpreters on the front lines are asking for more attention paid to clarity and the quality of their life at work.

The company is in an incredible position when faced with a unionized workforce. They have the opportunity to partner with their most powerful weapon against competition in the market. With a collaboration of management’s drive towards higher profits and interpreters having a voice in the changing VRS landscape, Convo could quickly set itself on a level playing field to outshine Sorenson on a global scale.

Being apart of a Union for VIs strengthens our field, secures our future and allows us to steer our destinies. I love making room for my own dreams of success. For Interpreters, By Interpreters .. that’s the VIU.

– Christopher Coles

It’s hard not to see Convo’s executive leadership as a victim in a way. They’ve created focus groups for their interpreters, sent surveys and carved out time for team meetings. According to the DeafVee “Three times between August 1 and September 30, surveys were sent out to interpreters suggesting that the company wanted to know more about varying things including culture, equipment, their overall health, and whether they were happy” with interpreters “crying for help” in multiple centers without a response from management. Other interpreters describe their work as “a living hell”[2]. From an outside perspective, it would seem Convo executives are now in the position many early interpreters were. They are trying to reconcile the needs of their callers with the need for a growing company to produce record profits. Yet like in its first iteration, the machine is losing the input of the interpreter. 

It’s also hard not to see the benefit from the side of the caller. Interpreters are the first to hear about the experience of their callers face to face, typically before and during active calls. Both positive and negative, interpreters have a dialed in pulse on the community’s feelings, attitudes and requests. A union allows for a unique feedback channel for Deaf consumers. Complaints only interpreters are privy to can arrive to the table where decisions are made, removed entirely of identifying information due to the interpreter’s obligation to confidentiality. Not only does this protect the provider from failing to acknowledge the weight of the comments but it protects the consumer from experiencing any negatives in the process of providing feedback on a service they rely on.

 

 

 Deaf callers will be able to collaborate with the practitioners processing their calls to see a better VRS being created based on their input. Until this point, feedback has much been left to a reporting system with a sole commitment of acknowledgment. Interpreters having voting power within the VRS industry means bringing the requests and needs of their callers to upper management with a requirement of action.

In an effort to understand the shift towards a union deeper, I got in touch with one of the founding members, Matt Salerno. His insight was incredible as were the first hand accounts of interpreters currently employed by Convo which you can find on the union website. 

Hi Matt! Thanks so much for having this chat with me! I’m really interested in what’s happening over there with the union.

My pleasure! I’m thrilled to tell you about it!

Let’s dive right in! I’m really curious to find out what brought about the formation of a union. As you know I was previously with Convo and I’m curious what inspired you and the team to finally do this.

Convo has had its ups and downs over the years. As a tech start-up, that’s the name of the game! Being the only fully certified, Deaf-owned VRS provider we all know that Convo has been a trailblazer in the industry. Unfortunately VIs bear the brunt of many of these growing pains. Seeing no tangible results or long-term solutions from focus groups and team meetings, we decided to take it upon ourselves to codify guaranteed protections for the VI workforce and bring a seat of our own to the table. Convo’s brand has always been their unrivaled VI workforce, and once again we are following through on that claim by pioneering VRS into the 21st century with a union!

I take it during the conversations happening in focus groups and team meetings weren’t creating change? What was the tipping point?

At the onset of the pandemic as conditions worsened, we began to connect with one another about the struggles of virtual work and nostalgia for a collaborative call center environment. We recognized the collective exhaustion brought on by an endless queue, and little reprieve in terms of benefits and wages. Policies and practices continued to change, which is a major factor in why we chose to pursue a union. With a contract, our workforce is protected by those terms. Our conversations grew when the DeafVee articles came out; for many it was an opportunity to come out of the shadows and feel seen. Empowered, we decided to take things into our own hands.

The DeafVee Journal reported “Interpreters are sharing that they no longer receive collaboration from their colleagues, their supervisors, and the Human Resources department (some may argue that this is due to the pandemic but the declines began well before the pandemic hit). Interpreters need answers to their questions as well as support to grow as interpreters and as professionals so that they can continue to provide high-quality interpreting for the Deaf community.”[2]

A contract is certainly a big step towards protections, what are you hoping to see in the contract as terms?

We have come together with the common goal of an equitable workplace and that is what will drive our contract negotiations. We value: having safe and healthy working conditions, sustainable performance standards, meaningful input in policies and procedures, equitable wages that reflect the value of our work, fair treatment as humans with unique needs, communication that is transparent, clear, and timely, honesty and respect to be upheld as core values, reimbursement for autonomously selected personal development, and clearly defined and standardized onboarding, termination, and disciplinary policies. When some VIs began to visibly speak up about our needs, many of our policies saw great improvement. History has shown us that those changes can happen any time, so there is no guarantee that they will be here to stay. VIs do not have a say in policies, because we do not have them ratified into contract. Through a union, we will be treated as stakeholders in our workplace.

While those are terms seemingly anyone would be on-board with, I’m sure it wasn’t easy announcing this to fellow VI’s. What was their reaction?

Funny enough, it has been beyond refreshing to be in community with fellow VIs. The pandemic has lead to a greater trend in working in isolation, so we have relished these conversations. With the growth in new VIs working from home, it has also been fantastic to connect with people we would never have met otherwise. Like with most other union campaigns, there are VIs who are not interested. We take the time to learn about what turns them off from the idea, and share facts about unions. We validate their concerns, and hope that they will appreciate the benefits of a union contract at the end of the day. Overall we are fortunate to have been met with excitement from most interpreters and community members, both inside and outside of Convo. The best part of all of this has been reaching out to Convo VIs to see how they felt about unionizing, only to find out that they were already trying to do it! There is great strength in unity and we are grateful that our colleagues see that.

That’s fantastic! How about management? Have you found support in the upper channels of the company?

We have found support in some pretty surprising places! Without compromising anyone in particular, there are some gems in the company who see the value in our effort. Many former employees have signed on to our petition as well. By and large, we have gotten the “pro-employee” message from our C-suite. That’s great news for us, considering a union IS Convo’s employees! We hope they will recognize our union and voluntarily begin negotiations.

There are multiple accounts of incompetent leadership and a lack of honesty/transparency. Is this a priority for the union and how do you see the unionization improving this?

Accountability and communication are major factors in why we formed VIU. Turnover in management is reflected in the chronic understaffing we face on the frontlines. It’s been hard to see the revolving HR door usher out so much talent. We have lost all but one of our managers since the pandemic. Regardless of who is at the helm, VIU sees the value in providing a stable presence for VIs. This will help to build trust and improve the standing of our current dynamic. By organizing, we have already been able to better share information and build community with one another.

 

We believe VIs should be treated fairly and consistently in all aspects of work. Decisions about policy changes that impact VI workflow should be passed through the lens of a VI. Performance expectations should be informed by the experience of VIs. Disciplinary action should be transparent and include a representative for the VI. Union representation through VIU is one step in working toward improving the current imbalance.

Convo by and large has always lead with a progressive pro-employee narrative which is why many interpreters joined them in their inception. Many of their internal campaigns are geared toward a more open and affirming environment. It’s important to point out that terms raised by the union lean heavily into the state of operations and less towards the freedom of expression Convo interpreters have loved over the years. 

Often companies respond to discussions in our field about unionization with great PR that paints a much more positive picture of a future without a union. We’ve seen this time and time again with Sorenson and Convo certainly doesn’t lack any creative talent on the marketing side.   

"For the two years I was there we were promised it would get better. It just kept getting worse and worse."

– Former Convo Interpreter

How do you hope to see this impact the larger interpreting industry?

VRS providers are beholden to the FCC as a regulating body. There is currently very little action that can be taken by VIs to advocate for themselves. Pay rates do not have to change, disciplinary action can escalate at the whim of a manager, a “readiness percentage” dictates how much of every hour you must be taking calls or terminated; this is all to say that the system is arbitrary and can be overhauled. As the frontline staff, and an ironically underrepresented voice in the conversation, a union would elevate our needs. Due to loosened regulations during the onset of the pandemic, VRS providers have benefitted from having at least half of their staff working from home. A major consequence is the increase in working in isolation. This has only further stifled our ability to information share. Unionizing has rekindled connections with VIs across the country! We have already seen interest pick up in our greater community. Scholars and interpreting practitioners, as well as leaders in the community have signed our petition. This movement is only picking up momentum and is sure to track across the greater interpreting field. We hope that interpreters feel inspired by our campaign and start talking to their colleagues and communities about what they can do to advocate for better terms and working conditions.

I hope to see protections in place for video interpreters so that we can continue providing quality service to our consumers without injury or burnout.

– Reid Michael

Many opponents of collective organizing argue that a union would increase the cost of services making them unsustainable. VRS interpreters negotiating a higher rate could have a considerable impact on a provider’s bottom line. Are rate increases something you’re interested in negotiating and how do you see them playing out without disrupting services?

VRS providers are reimbursed monthly at a set rate by the FCC. There is anywhere from $40-50 million paid out monthly since the pandemic to all providers. This allows for a relatively predictable income stream. We also see VRS providers expanding to provide community interpreting, and VRI services. Since the pandemic, overhead costs have shrunk for VRS providers as more VIs are working from home. And yet, there is still a push for higher reimbursement rates from the FCC by VRS providers. Anecdotally across the industry, we see pay raises that severely lag behind basic inflation and the rising cost of living.

All of this is to posit, where else should the revenue go if not to the frontline VI staff who are alone maintaining a bilingual nation-wide relay operation?

I would be hard pressed to say that guaranteed raises for VIs would threaten the sustainability of any VRS provider. It’s reasonable to say that there would be a loss in revenue for shareholders if rates stay the same. I still personally advocate for rate increases across the board in order to invest in the sustainability of a VI and their longevity.

In any pay negotiation, VIU believes that multiple factors should determine someone’s hourly rate. Depending on someone’s background and relative achievements, they should be compensated appropriately. By assessing the whole VI and their contributions, we can work toward better equity in pay.

While VRS providers continue to expand their services into community interpreting, their Deaf callers are waiting in a queue for a video interpreter. It’s no secret that VRS interpreters fill their schedules with community work when possible in an effort to escape call centers and try to interact with the community. The fallacy that their expansion into the community doesn’t impact the VRS queue is perhaps only presented to those outside of the industry. For insiders, the lack of support on the phone lines has clear and fixable causes. Those solutions however would be at direct odds with the priorities of the provider: profit. 

I hope that VIU causes a ripple effect in the VRS industry. Deaf/HoH people deserve a better experience with VRS, and interpreters deserve a career that supports longevity and growth. It is apparent that without action from employees and the community as a whole, VRS companies will continue to mistreat interpreters, and put profits over caller experience.

– Sage Klem 

As with any great system, it is only as strong as its weakest part. Interpreters within the Convo system are beginning to feel the stress of maintaining the machine. As experts in the arena of their practice within the four walls of a cubicle over countless calls, they have the opportunity to bring the real experience to the table. They’re finally doing just that. With criticism of the company taking a back seat to support of that once great system, they are offering Convo an incredible opportunity. They are offering a collaboration with open arms not just with a pool of interpreters but with a concise, single voice among them that will serve to vote in the best interest of their employees and customers. It’s easy to overlook the fact that interpreters are the single customer facing front receiving the most praise, criticism, questions and commentary about the provider. They are also the closest to one another’s concerns and questions regarding changes within the company. Most importantly they are the one thing standing between an 80% speed of answer rate under 1 minute and the subsidy the federal government pays to Convo for services. Without support in place, their workforce could never expect to succeed at the quality callers have come to expect. This union is offering a solution to Convo that makes all parties a winner. The callers get the best quality interpreting they’ve come to know and love, the company can continue to scale and grow while their interpreters can develop and become the best practitioners they can be.

For these reasons, the most logical choice would be to support a union that is able to provide negotiable requests to the company based on collective experience. While the goal of any union is to support the workforce in improved conditions when necessary; Convo’s union will be in a unique position as they are working to improve the experience of callers. As many interpreters signing cards for the union have proclaimed online, Convo is interpreters. With the success of their interpreters comes the success of the organization in providing incredible services to its incredible callers. 

Becoming a union organizer really takes two things: passion and commitment. The very things that brought us all to Convo in the first place. The rest can be picked up along the way.

– Matt Salerno

I think it’s important to note that everyone involved in the creation of this union is in fact a Convo interpreter. From what I’ve seen, your members are of varying experience level as well.  I think it’s very important to note that the work you’re doing wasn’t assigned to you, you’ve created this union simply as practitioners.

VIU members are Convo VIs, and throughout this process we have worn many hats: the recruiter, advocate, activist, trainer, writer, web designer, and social media manager, just to name a few. None of us started as union organizers! And yet, we have effected change by stepping up to the plate and maintaining our commitment. We will do whatever it takes to make our workplace safe and sustainable so we can continue to serve our community uninterrupted. In essence, that is all it takes to become a union organizer: passion and commitment. The rest can be picked up along the way. 

 

VIU members recognize the need for urgent change. Our work will continue to be impacted to the detriment of callers until conditions improve and stabilize. Convo VIs are highly motivated by a profound care for callers. We are open to learn, adapt, and embody the “right” skill set to meet them where they are. Our ask is that Convo will do the same for us, and begin negotiations. We come from a plurality of views, places, and lived experiences. VIU believes that diversity betters any decision-making process, and works toward true representation. We encourage everyone in this industry to get involved, regardless of their skill set or experience. Each individual has something unique to offer to the movement, and there is room for everyone at our table. Those values are paramount in upholding a fearless team.

Convo also faces a peculiar positioning in the market. Without support for this union, they stand to lose their workforce entirely which would weaken their product. That loss would mean becoming exactly what they set out to avoid: just like everyone else. Convo is the service it is because of the tireless work they invested into its founding. Without the extensive hours earning the trust of the interpreters willing to return to an industry they swore off, Convo would not exist. Without the long nights of engineering products that would change the way their callers experience VRS, Convo would not exist. Without their bold revolutionary thinking and unabashed approach to an industry they utilized as Deaf callers themselves, Convo would not exist. Without this union, the Convo we know and love cannot exist.

This article could have never been possible without the incredible people of the Deaf community. I am eternally grateful to each and every one of you for offering me an invitation to this work. It is in that same spirit of gratitude that I offer my support to a union that will support a better future of services I’ve been lucky enough to provide. 


Thank you, for using me & thank you for using Convo.


In solidarity – Interpreter #5346 

Support the Video Interpreters United Union

Add your name to the list of public supporters of Convo's interpreters or sign your union card at the link below.

Entertainment Interpreters

Entertainment Interpreting Services are different.

Plenty of agencies believe they can staff interpreters for production work and sadly, they’re very wrong. A portrait photographer probably wouldn’t be the first choice to cover nail the action sequences in a Marvel film. The same applies to interpreting. We all have a specialty and when it’s important, you need a specialist. 

We’ve worked on sets and locations of three people and three hundred. There’s a few things we’ve picked up along the way.

ASL Interpreters and On-Set Etiquette

Generalists typically have no exposure or understanding of on-set etiquette. You’ll find with a random interpreter on the street, the interactions can seem odd for the environment. It’s because they’ve never been there, so it’s easy to assume they are not feeling the best either. For someone with a background in accounting meetings or doctors appointments, being thrown onto the fast paced set of a feature film can be complete culture shock. We see a vast amount of interpreters dip out of projects for other agencies in the middle of production because they can’t handle the schedule. 

The motivation for the work is another concern. Interpreters who pick up work on set are often more interested in being on camera than they are with the production going smoothly. Our team vets hundreds of potential interpreters every year and have found the number one reason to not bring them to set is their craving for attention. We can work with new interpreters who are eager to learn. We can’t convince her she’s not better than Anne Hathaway and trust us, we’ve tried.

ASL Interpreters With Experience On Set 

Often agencies will send an interpreter to an editing job without any prior experience. They complete the job and believe they’ve done well. Then we get called when the subtitles don’t match the signs and entire lines are compromised. We’ve been called to many projects just to fix a previous interpreters rookie mistake with a pickup that didn’t need to happen because they had the sign in another shot. When you’re unfamiliar with a production and what’s involved, it’s much harder to ask for the solution. 

Easy to Schedule ASL Services

Finally, the most common headache in getting interpreters for set is the scheduling. Agencies rely on a one to two week lead time for schedule changes. They’re just not built to handle a midnight call sheet. So they charge higher by the day with insane cancellation policies, charging producers the same hours for a holding day regardless of the notice. The expense can be enormous and completely unnecessary but as a provider of sign language interpreting services, they follow their standard system even for the outlier. 

ASL Interpreters in Production

We’ve trained for years on set and aided many interpreters in garnering experience from the very first concept meeting to the awards ceremony. Our interpreters are production experts you can trust. We also don’t have ridiculous fees or stipulations required in working with us. We’re great with flexible scheduling because this is what we do. When looking for american sign language interpreting services in New York or american sign language interpreting services Los Angeles, you can trust that we’re the right people for the job. We even provide american sign language interpreting services on location, anywhere in the US.

Become a Certified American Sign Language Interpreter

In order to become a certified American Sign Language interpreter in New York, you’ll need to study the language, the art of interpreting, learn the culture and sit for the certification test. You can do that in 5 steps.

Get an Education

While many folks will insist that a two year program is enough, you’ll need a bachelors if you want to get certified under RID’s current requirements. Four year programs are available through schools like Rochester’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) and Gaulladet University in Washington D.C. You can find more on the pricing of these programs here.

Study the Art of Interpreting

You’ll find that a solid program will teach you skills like processing, transliteration, deconstruction and more. With a few years of dedication and hard work, you’ll be able to break down even the most mumbled of messages to produce a clear and effective interpretation.

Learn the Culture

You’ll need to spend time in the Deaf community. You can find Deaf events online and make friends through your program. Within the process, you’ll find a beautiful culture rich with language, artwork and mores unknown to the wider hearing world. While Deaf culture can be incredibly layered and vast, it can also been complex to understand. It’s for this reason we always recommend spending as much time giving back to the community as possible. As we are guests, we always want to maintain a warm and inviting reputation within and without.

Sit for the Test

The newest NIC exam is available through CASLI. You’ll need to pay the fees for the exam which you can read about here, before scheduling the first portion which is the knowledge. Part one of the test is most often referred to within the American Sign Language interpreting industry at the written, followed by the performance exam six months later. While these two exams can be expensive, you’ll see that certified interpreters are able to earn a higher wage along with more respect in the community by many of their colleagues.