As many of my readers may already know, much of my spare time during the first weeks of 2009 was spent advocating for and helping to coordinate interpreting services for PantheaCon, one of the nation’s largest Pagan-themed conferences, held here in the Bay Area.
It’s been nearly a month since PantheaCon took place, and I have been gathering feedback from many of the individuals who were there. This was the first time that sign language interpreters were provided for this event, and I was curious to see what the response might be from the community – the Deaf attendees, the interpreters, the presenters, and my fellow Pagans were there.
I haven’t really had a chance to check the Pagan Blogosphere to see what others might have said, but Macha Nightmare does comment over at her blog, Broomstick Chronicles. While attending Orion Foxwood’s “Journey to the Enchanted Tree” which I also attended on that first night, she observed the interpreters and mentions
I was fascinated watching the ASL interpreters trying to sign his puns.
Indeed, Orion was probably one of the more challenging workshops to interpret, and my hat goes off to Brian and Demar for rising to the task.
All together, if I count them correctly, we had nine interpreters present at PantheaCon this year, with services being coordinated by Kevin, himself a student in an Interpreter Training Program in Hawaii. Below Kevin shares his excitement at being able to support the effort to make the conference available to individuals using American Sign Language:
At this stage of my interpreter training, I am a voracious sponge! I’m taking in all of the ways that conversations can be signed, learning about dialectal differences, and cultural differences between the deaf and hearing worlds. Curious as to how certain concepts and words would be signed, I stuck around and attended the workshops that the deaf folks did. Wow! My head was bursting after Friday night with Orion Foxwood. During the weekend, I learned how interpreters guide a deaf participant in visualizations; the finer points of role shift; use of classifiers; and many more ASL grammar points that will hopefully make me as good as the interpreters I worked with over the weekend. Most people probably don’t realize just how fatiguing interpreting can be, and why a team approach is the only approach to ensure that the Deaf person gets the best interpretation possible. I learned a lot about interpreter working conditions on-the-job, and not just from book-learning in my interpreter training program. And the crew of interpreters who showed up to help…what can I say? I was very very impressed with the professionalism and the quality of each one!
You and I both, Kevin. I too was impressed with the professionalism and the quality of each interpreter who provided services for PantheaCon. It ain’t much, but I do want to take a moment here to say “thank you.”
Eight of PantheaCon’s interpreters, along with Interpreter Coordinator Kevin, gather together in front of the fireplace on Sunday night. Unfortunately, our ninth interpreter, Lori was not available for this photograph
Judging from the comments I have gotten from the interpreters, they enjoyed being at the conference as much as the Deaf attendees enjoyed having them there:
This was my first PantheaCon and it was mind blowing, both as a participant and as a terp. The sheer diversity of Pagans was astounding and very heartening. My soul was refreshed by the people and the rain. The workshops were so multi-layered and therefore accessible for all levels of interest and they addressed a wide variety of topics. Most of all I thoroughly enjoyed meeting new friends and working with other Pagans who are either D/deaf or interpreters to develop a lexicon for Pagan-lingo. HUGE! I will be there next year for sure & I look forward to a much larger D/deaf contingency! I am proud to have been at the first PantheaCon with the beginnings of full inclusion and accessible information.
I think we can all be proud of having been a part of this beginning, and of the efforts which have been made thus far, efforts which were indeed noticed by attendees of the conference:
The richness of the PantheaCon experience was deepened considerably this year by the availability of interpreters for the Deaf, an addition I was delighted to see!
~ Holli S. Emore, CFRE, Executive Director, Cherry Hill Seminary
Several attendees commented on how the presence of sign language interpreters enriched their own experience, and added a new dimension to the workshop or ritual:
I was in a ritual with a sign interpreter. I was two or three people away. I found it amazingly moving to be able to watch the ritual processed an entirely different way than anything I has experienced before. I watched the interpreter quite a bit, not because it was distracting, but because it was so beautiful to watch the song “performed”. I ended up learning the song in sign from watching the process. I feel that I had a deeper experience of the ritual because of this.
We had a sign language interpreter in Z Budapest’s Dianic Self-Blessing rite on Saturday of PCon. She was a wonderful addition to the proceedings there! A group of about 60 women were singing the same chant over and over for 90 minutes, as the singing is the backbone of the ritual. Well, the interpreter was a real trooper. She signed right along with us the whole time, repeating the song over and over with her hands as we lifted our voices. Some of the women around her began watching her and learned the motions she was doing, so that by the end of the ceremony a few women were signing right along with her. It was great to see the way sign language represented a moving meditation in that ritual, as well as the translation for the woman who was deaf.
Another aspect of the workshops which was commented on was how the Deaf attendees responded to the use of drums during rituals or meditations. This brings to light the fact that even thought we might not be able to hear, Deaf people can still appreciate such things as the vibrations of drumming through the use of our other senses…
We did a journey involving drumming, and the active involvement – getting close to the drum, touching it – added a wonderful three-dimensional feeling to the gathering and participation…It was great to see that it was possible to share the journey in that way.
I held a class at Pantheacon which had Deaf participants.
It was wonderful to have them there and witness the interpreters doing their thing.
The class was the tantric shamanism breath work. There was a long period in the ceremony in which I did a guided breath experience over drumming.
One of my favorite moments was going over to one of the men and I drummed over his body so he could feel it. He just lit right up because he got a visceral experience of the drumming.
I know I personally was really touched by you and Tanja’s participation at Ginny’s event that I assisted with. I’ve never led a ceremony before where folks were signing or where Deaf participants were present, so it was just really cool for me. I especially enjoyed you and Tanja’s way of relating with the drumming for the visioning part.
So, overall seemed all positive to me, and I know I shared with several friend afterwards how nice it was to have that element present in the circle.
It’s clear from reading the above comments, that the inclusion of sign language interpreters was a positive thing for many, if not most of the people at PantheaCon. It added another dimension to the whole experience, and provided an educational opportunity for attendees which they might never have been exposed to otherwise:
The interpreters and their dedication to the deaf attendees was a magical thing to watch, especially during ritual. As a hearing person, I thought it was terrific that the deaf were offered the option of having an interpreter. I didn’t find the interpreter to be “in the way” at all. They added another depth to the event, especially when it came to interpreting religious descriptions, and the interaction between the deaf person, the interpreter and the hearing folk was lively and friendly.
So what did the Deaf attendees themselves think? I think the following comment from Steven sums it up…
First time attendee at PantheaCon or ~any~ pagan-like event.
Pretty cool experience, made all the more enjoyable by having some phantastik interpreters willing to volunteer their time and energy to help others like me appreciate another dimension (to life? to reality? who can say…).
While the skill level among the interpreters varied somewhat, the group’s skill was very good indeed, and I was able to “get it”. At one workshop, I had 3 interpreters alternating. How lucky could I get?
I’m not much of a conference type person, but I truly can say I enjoyed the participatory nature of the workshops I attended that could’ve been possible only with help of interpreters.
Thanks to the entire crew for helping and with a little luck, if I’m in this corner of the world next year, I’ll go again.
I don’t think I could have said it any better.
For myself personally, PantheaCon was an opportunity to share my spirituality with some of my Deaf friends, and for them to learn a little about Paganism. It was also a chance to get reconnected with some old friends and make some new ones; to expand on my own knowledge and practice of the Pagan Path; and to buy a new hat to add to my witchy wardrobe.
But most importantly, it was a chance to indeed “get it.”
I think my fondest memories were during workshops in which I was seated behind the Deaf clients directly in front of the interpreter. I wanted to hear the English, watch the ASL, and attempt to resolve both in my mind (as interpreters have to do) to monitor the interpretation rendered. The interpretations, at least to me, were excellent overall, but there were a few times when certain sentences or stories the facilitators gave in English were given absolutely brilliant and clear interpretations. How did I know? I was moved by what the speaker said, only to see a couple of seconds later, the faces of the Deaf people light up because they were equally moved. The Deaf folks nodded and smiled to each other, because they “got it” – They got the very same message I did, a few seconds later, in ASL. The interpretation worked, because everyone seated there – Deaf and hearing – all got the same message.
I was blessed to be able to 1) hear the message; 2) see the interpretation, and 3) see whether or not the deaf clients reacted to it – did they laugh, look pensive, etc? What I hope to become – a facilitator of communication between the Deaf and hearing world - was reinforced by what I witnessed again and again during the weekend. Language magick was in the air, and I was there to experience it.
Thanks for the magick.