Being an American Sign Language Interpreter is Rebecca Rick’s first and only career.
She was majoring in postsecondary education at Central Lakes College in Brainerd and took American Sign Language to fulfill a language requirement. “My mom had been an interpreter. Because of a car accident, she wasn’t able to continue. I thought, ‘If my mom could do this, I could take a class just to graduate.’ I took the class, and it was so much more complex than what I ever thought. I just instantly loved the challenge of learning the language — not just learning, but mastering it.”
After completing her bachelor’s degree with four introductory courses in American Sign Language, she completed a two-year interpreting program. “They enhance your vocabulary, help you learn the skills of actual interpreting — spoken language to sign and vice versa,” she said.
During her education, she experienced the changing nature of American Sign Language first hand. “I was actually starting my second year when 9/11 happened. All of a sudden the deaf community had to decide on how are we going to sign Osama bin Laden, appropriately show buildings falling, planes crashing. Instantly, we had to know how to sign that situation, and to be able to do it holding back our own personal feelings, opinions. That was a moment when we saw the community pull together.”
After 11 years on the job, Rick says, “I love what I do. It’s what I was made to do.”
What’s the best part of the job?
As an interpreter I can be whomever I want on my day. I have interpreted for rock concerts, for doctor’s visits, for elementary schools, colleges. I’ve interpreted phone calls. Right now there’s a technology called video relay. A person can sit at home and use their hands, and I can see them sign it. I have a rock star mike in my ear, and I can hear the person they’re talking to. The communication barrier is next to none. I’m interpreting conference calls, calling the bank, asking grandma how to make meatloaf.
Do you have a favorite kind of assignment?
I do a lot of work for local theaters, and I enjoy that. Being a mother of four children, I can’t devote three or four or five months of my life to be a part of one show. I can get the script in the mail, see the show two or three times, show up one night to interpret and go home.
What’s the hardest part of the job?
Our code of conduct talks about conveying the spirit of the message. If the spirit of the message is one of disdain and disrespect, we aren’t doing our job if we make evil less evil.
Why are there usually two interpreters at events?
The last research that I have seen said that the human brain can only do about 20 minutes of interpreting before it starts to slip. If there’s a job that’s over two hours we try to have two people there to switch off. That provides both sides with the best interpretation possible.
Is there a demand for American Sign Language Interpreters?
Even with three interpreting programs in the area, there are countless jobs that go unfilled or are given to unqualified signers rather than credible interpreters every day. That’s for Minnesota. We’re known for having some of the very best interpreting services, and I don’t feel like we have enough. □