Danny McDougall Causes Paradigm Shift in ASL Interpreter Dilemma

By: Mary Patricia

Danny McDougall was asked a couple of weeks before a small event at Madonna University (Livonia, Michigan) to give a talk. Usually, when a speaker goes to give a talk at any type of event, they go through the process of planning. Planning for a talk includes developing the material, working on delivery, practicing the speech and then getting to the presentation. This is where the paradigm shift occurred, for Danny faced an interpreter shortage issue. Instead of presenting orally, he chose to do his presentation in American Sign Language with no voice. “I realized I could shift the language of choice in the room.“ (McDougall)

This is not what usually happens for people that utilize interpreters however this particular presentation was geared towards students, faculty, along with the “broader campus” in an effort to educate them in better understanding Deaf ideas. “An academic institution is exactly the type of place where we should be a bit bold - with the hopes that we can expand the minds of everyone in the room. That’s what education is about, eh?” (McDougall)

it is usually the event organizer’s responsibility to book interpreters however the first thing McDougall wanted to emphasize was the issue of shortage of interpreters.  The event organizer, by no fault of their own, is not familiar with requesting interpreters for talks. No request was made for an interpreter until a few days before the event. ”There is a department that provides interpreters on campus - and the university usually provides interpreters - but, a request wasn't made.” McDougall emphasized, “The interpreting office kept trying to make arrangements, but nobody was available. There are times when the demand or interpreters in our area isn't met, and this was one of those moments.”

This particular presentation was done at an annual research symposium at Madonna University where McDougall works as the chair of Sign Language Studies. “I'm also a Ph.D. student at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, focusing on human geography and interpreting. There is an annual research symposium at Madonna U, and they asked three professors to give 20-minute presentations about their research. I was the last person in the line-up.” McDougall shared with The Deaf Report. “The event organizer was very supportive of the approach - she thought it was a good way to make the point about the importance of interpreters at our public meetings.”

When asked, McDougall shared that his message was widely appreciated both by non-ASL users and ASL users. “The presentation went really well. It became an ASL space, and so the ASL users were the "in" group ... ASL was the dominant language, at least temporarily. There was a very nice interaction between me and the ASL audience — but, I was also surprised how engaged the hearing people were. They were really trying to follow along, using the slides, as best they could.”(McDougall)

McDougall was very excited by how the message was so well received by the university. “Some other hearing people stopped to say that they appreciated the added lesson about inclusion, and felt it was an effective way to teach a lesson. Everyone who attended was a part of the campus community: students, faculty, and administrators. It was very nerdy!”