Description: The concept of epistemic justice and its place in sign language interpreting discourse helps us understand how schisms emerged among professional sign language interpreters and the Deaf communities they serve. Among the consequences of such schisms has been the erasure of deaf epistemologies and ontologies in interpreter education, research, and professional discourse. This erasure and the dominance of non-deaf people in interpreting perpetuates a form of epistemological injustice while promoting gaps in equity literacy for sign language interpreters. We explore this notion of epistemic justice and its meaning in sign language interpreting. Gayarti Spivak defined epistemic violence as active efforts to obstruct and undermine non-dominant knowledge as a means of “Othering.” An examination of the interpreting field through the lens of Spivak’s epistemic violence reveals widespread resistance to feedback from deaf people, marginalization of deaf perspectives in sign language interpreting, and posturing where non-deaf people exhibit defensiveness when deaf people address hearing privilege or structural inequities. Epistemic injustice is both personal and structural. Deaf people experience this form of injustice in indirect, subtle, and implicit ways. We discuss examples of epistemic injustice that occurs in day-to-day encounters between deaf and non-deaf people with the goal that our audience can identify and resist recurrences of this type of injustice. Key to resisting epistemic injustice is to embrace vulnerability. In contemporary social justice dialogue, vulnerability is a key ingredient. In encouraging vulnerability, we consider critical concepts of deaf heart, ally, and accomplice. In the context of epistemic justice, what do those terms really mean? What does it mean to be vulnerable in order to dismantle existing personal forms of oppression such as microaggressions and divesture? Finally, we consider the ways in which this works toward closer relationships between deaf people and non-deaf interpreters.
Naomi Sheneman, Ph.D. & CDI, has been working professionally in the interpreting profession since 2000 in various roles. She is currently a freelance consultant, researcher, educator, and interpreter. Naomi recently completed her Ph.D. in Interpretation from Gallaudet University. Her dissertation study focused on the impact of extralinguistic knowledge on interpreters’ work. In addition, Naomi co-developed the ASL-English Interpreting Diagnostic Assessment Rubrics, co-authored a case study of hearing and Deaf interpreters’ work in an international conference involving several sign languages, and published a study on Deaf interpreters’ ethics.
About Octavian Robinson
Octavian Robinson earned his Ph.D. from The Ohio State University in gender and women’s history with a focus on U.S. history since 1877. He also holds a M.A. in Deaf Studies from Gallaudet. Octavian has published on deaf women’s history, ableist rhetoric, citizenship, disability justice, and linguistic rights. He is currently working on a history monograph about deaf respectability politics. He is an assistant professor of American Sign Language and Interpreting at St. Catherine University.