The Founders of American Sign Language Interpreters and Interpreter Educators

The Founders of American Sign Language Interpreters and Interpreter Educators

Carolyn Ball, Executive Director, VRS Interpreting Institute (VRSII)

On June 16, 1964 the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) was founded in Muncie, Indiana at Ball State College. The establishment of RID was not planned, nor was it expected.  After RID was established, the small membership was scattered across the country and there were very few contacts made between members, apart from the occasional newsletter that kept the group in touch. Since 1964 the RID membership has grown to over 15,000 members.

To commemorate the first twenty-five years of RID, Mr. Lou Fant, considered to be the Father of Interpreting, published the only documented written history of RID in 1990. Later in 2001, sadly, Fant passed away. It was not until 2013 that another history was written. The only history published since 1990 is Legacies and Legends: The history of interpreter and interpreter educators from 1880 to the 21st Century: . Included in the book are excerpts of oral history interviews by the author.

To supplement the historical information and oral interviews, which I gathered for the book, additional oral interviews were pursued. The oral interviews have granted mesmerizing anecdotal memories of the beginning of RID. Additionally, the interviews helped to capture the origination and continuation of the profession of sign language interpreters and interpreter education.

This project shows how the stories of the early pioneers in the field of interpreting and interpreter education have influenced a growing profession.

The process of videoing, making transcripts, and putting the components from the interviews into a chronological order posed many archival challenges. Having taken on the process myself the progression has taken much longer than originally anticipated.  Several interviews have been conducted in American Sign Language (ASL), which adds additional work to the transcription and documentation process. The interviews must be transcribed into English from ASL and then sent back to the interviewee to ensure that the translation is accurate.

Since the project began, several key pioneers have passed away and time is of the essence.  Because of this, the interview process has taken precedence over the organization to archive the oral interviews.

By June 2017, I had conducted interviews with 25 sign language interpreters and interpreting educators producing more than 75 hours of video and audio recordings and more than 1,000 pages of transcripts.

Building an online oral history exhibit is the ultimate goal of the creative process to document the history of interpreters and interpreter educators. The major questions that arose relate to the building and management of the website, the continuation of oral interviews, translation of interviews conducted in ASL and presentation of a comprehensive history.  Also, all of the interviews conducted in English need to have captions written for those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

The final website will include several video clips, pictures, personal letters as well as full transcripts, and highlights of pioneers interviewed. The audience includes students, the general public and professional historians to learn about the history of the interpreting and interpreter education profession. For more information on the project please feel free to contact Dr. Carolyn Ball at in Salt Lake City, Utah.