Oral Intervening: More Than Just Words

I used to think of myself as an oral interpreter. I submitted invoices for oral interpreting, gave workshops on oral interpreting and if you asked me, I'd say I was an oral interpreter. But I was wrong.

This realization only came gradually. Over the years, particularly with the increase in use in cochlear implants, I found myself providing intervenor services to individuals who did not rely on ASL, but who needed me to articulate in a clear, accessible manner. I didn't feel comfortable calling it oral interpreting because … well, it wasn't just interpreting!

An oral interpreter does not actually use his or her voice. An oral interpreter doesn't give visual or environmental information. An interpreter doesn't adapt the communication to specifically meet the needs of just one individual.

I just didn't know what to call myself. I'd skirt around the issue and describe what I did instead of giving myself a title. Eventually I had to come to terms with this. It became clear.

I am an intervenor, not an interpreter.

It came to me one day when I was watching an interpreter at a meeting. The sign language was excellent, but it felt like something was missing. When the speakers stopped speaking, the interpreter stopped signing.

There was so much else going on that was overlooked. What about the participant who was incessantly texting and unable to answer a question? What about the information on the PowerPoint slide projected on the front wall? What about the looks of confusion as the budget report was tabled?

It was then that I realized what I love most about being an intervenor. It is making the experience come alive. The words may be black and white but the colour is in all the details.


Julie Reid
Julie Reid has worked in the field of deafblindness for over 30 years. Initially with the Summer Intervention Program, she worked with an individual with congenital deafblindness. She then provided intervenor services for individuals with acquired deafblindness through Deaf Blind Services, CNIB where she also designed and implemented the Deaf-blind Literacy Program. She has taught in the Intervenor Program at George Brown College since its inception in 1991 and was one of the founding members of the IOO.