Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Conversations with a Cuer: Earl Fleetwood, Co-founder of LMI and TECUnit

Over the past year, I have engaged in an email conversation with Earl Fleetwood, who has been in the field of transliterating and interpreting since before I was born. He is also a sibling of a deaf cuer and holds a masters degree in ASL-English interpreting from Gallaudet University.

In our email conversations, we've discussed topics related to Cued Speech, more specifically in the area of linguistics and transliterating. Fleetwood and his wife, Dr. Melanie Metzger, have also published Cued Language Structure: An Analysis of Cued American English Based on Linguistic Principles. Fleetwood and Dr. Metzger played a critical role in advancing the concept of cued language as a separate mode with their focus on considering the visual needs of deaf people in the absence of auditory stimulus. After all, they are the only individuals who have published texts on cued language linguistics and transliterating. 

After I posted "CLTs and the need for a formal process," I sent the link to Fleetwood to get his thoughts on it. In return, he shared with me his comments on specific points. I asked for his permission to share as I think the entire Cued Speech community would benefit from hearing his perspective. See below for my response to specific points that Fleetwood has raised in his commentary.



Aaron, the following (seemingly disjointed) comments are intended as responses to some of the major points in your blog post.  To briefly contextualize for your audience the perspective for my comments, I am co-founder of the TECUnit and currently sit on its board, and am a co-author of its certification examinations. I am also co-founder of LMI, co-author of its coursework, and currently serve as a consultant and instructor.


The TECUnit provides a certification opportunity and certification maintenance opportunity for service providers (i.e. CLTs) who work with a much smaller community than that served by RID. Perhaps the resources of each organization are proportionate to the size of the populations that they serve. In that regard, comparing the TECUnit with the RID is a bit like comparing the NCSA with NAD.

Most of the certification maintenance opportunities that RID recognizes are offered by independent individuals or agencies who have their offerings reviewed by RID for certification maintenance credit worthiness. The TECUnit provides a review process for certification maintenance purposes as well. RID sponsored conferences are but a small part of the RID certification maintenance structure.

For nearly 25 years TECUnit certification has consisted of a broad written test of relevant knowledge, a performance assessment allowing for a demonstration of the application of that knowledge to various scenarios, a specific transliteration speed/clarity/accuracy component, and an application of ethics scenario assessment (a component of RID testing only added to its testing in recent years). Inherent in performance testing is the ability to cue and to comprehend the cued messages of others.


Increasing the amount of information that the TECUnit provides about its services and operational structure is somewhat linked to the resources at its disposal. There is no intent nor need to be less than transparent. Because the TECUnit was conceived as an organization that would simply provide CLTs a certification opportunity where none existed before, its ability to sustain that function has exclusively relied on income from the testing opportunities that it makes available. Much like RID in its early years, that income does not currently provide for a robust communication system.  Much like RID in its early years, making more information available to more people is a goal.


As the advocacy organization that you describe, primary to the NCSA's mission is broadening the use of cued languages. As a certification organization, the TECUnit's primary mission is providing an assessment mechanism for an explicit behavioral standard. The goals of each organization are seen by some as being at odds with one another. Perhaps this is because standards of practice for cued language transliteration inherently throttle the spread of cueing, as those standards don't allow all cuers to identify themselves as qualified practitioners without demonstrating that they have met the standards via the certification process. Perhaps it is because the NCSA creates a need that outpaces the very deliberate processes that constitute the TECUnit's primary function. Regardless, the avenue of cooperation is walked when each recognizes that the other's efforts support the function of each: the NCSA creates a need for qualified CLT services and the TECUnit creates a means of identifying those who are qualified. Rather than mediate or arbitrate where complaints are aimed at the behavior of CLTs, the NCSA need only respond in support of the standards set by the TECUnit and frame any subsequent dialogue with explicit confidence in those standards.


Educational systems vary in their understanding of the role of a CLT. In fact, many would have the CLT behave in a manner contradictory to standards that CLTs are certified to practice and uphold. So, arbitration on a local level would not likely resolve the situation. Rather, it would create a dilemma for the certified CLT, who might as a condition of employment be asked to do things that would serve as grounds for revoking his/her certification. For example, school systems might require that all adults discipline students. However, doing so would completely undermine the very deaf and hearing student parity that the practitioner's decisions and behaviors are certified to support. The NCSA should be aware of such issues when responding to inquiries about CLTs in addition to directing questions to appropriate organizations such as the TECUnit. Certainly, the NCSA should be aware that TECUnit certification supports equity of opportunity for deaf/hard-of-hearing cuers in a way that school system decisions might displace simply out of ignorance or for short-term convenience.

Code of Conduct

It is important to not broadly assume that certified CLTs who attempt to follow the Code of Conduct in good faith should have their certification revoked because they were asked as a condition of employment to violate that code. One area that the CLTPES aims to address is that of others not knowing what to expect of a properly functioning CLT and of CLTs knowing how to manage or bypass, if not change, incorrect assumptions. Maneuvering between rules of employment and a code of professional conduct (which often has no legal standing) requires a finesse that tests the creativity of even the most adept practitioner. If that creativity cannot prevent school rules and the profession's code from clashing overtly, and the risk to the deaf/hard-of-hearing consumer's right to equal access opportunity lies in the balance, perhaps the best resolve does not begin with a process that grieves the CLT's behavior. Perhaps it is better to assume that the CLT needs a third-party advocate for his/her role --- someone who can show the school system that the CLT role is actually supportive of the school system's responsibilities and goals. As part of the NSCA's efforts to broaden the reach of cued languages and do so from a positive perspective, perhaps it would assertively support their mission to hire an expert on CLT-related matters for such instances.



TECUnit and RID 

It is certainly appropriate for TECUnit to focus on the logistics of certification alone, rather than taking on the additional pressure of setting up professional development opportunities. If TECunit were to expand, what would be the critical mass necessary for CLTs to be in a position where they can look forward to a regional or national conference that directly addresses their needs as professional CLTs?

As I think about recruiting future CLTs, it's my opinion that sign language interpreters are among the most ideal candidates for training to become certified transliterators. They go through similar processes in terms meeting transliterating/interpreting standards and service the same type of population: people who have hearing loss and need visual access. Yet, imagine the logistics in all of that.

I can probably count the number of individuals who are certified in both transliterating and interpreting on both hands, which alludes to the amount of effort in achieving that goal of dual certification. Would that have been different today had RID gone a different path when Cued Speech was on their agenda?

Earl previously spoke of his experience with RID and how some board members couldn't really comprehend that Cued Speech was entirely different and deserved its own categorization as a field, rather than being labeled as a subset of sign language interpreting, especially in regards to the idea of separate certifications. The question today then becomes whether it would be practical for TECUnit to pursue a partnership or become a program within RID and share the overhead costs of administering the certification program. Is it practical for such a merger or partnership?

I can only imagine the type of backlash that we would see from the deaf community in regards to the inclusion of cued language services within RID's scope. However, I just want to point out that the chief executive officer of RID happens to be someone who grew up with Cued Speech. If you think it's a good idea for RID and TECUnit to consider the idea of a partnership that mutually benefits both organizations, email both organizations and share your thoughts.


Fleetwood is correct in that the NCSA is an advocacy organization. That's why I joined the NCSA board back in 2007, so I could make some noise and let people know all about Cued Speech. Now I'm focusing on the bigger picture in terms of cued language services, educational and consumer rights, and the need for networking and collaboration. All of these things don't necessarily happen in one organization, however in regards to transliterators, what do we do in regards to minimizing the financial burden on them?

Cued language transliterators do need someone or an organization to be an advocate for them, however TECUnit obviously isn't in a position to expend efforts on a mass scale. The NCSA isn't really in a position to expand its programming either, given the broad mission and limited revenue it faces.

As for RID's role in advocacy, look at RID's mission:
The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. promotes excellence in the delivery of interpreting services among diverse users of signed and spoken languages through professional development, networking, advocacy, and standards.
RID addresses four key areas all under one organization, where as TECunit focuses on one.
TECUnit addresses the standards part in their own role as the national certifying body, but as membership grows, should they decide to take on the same roles as TECUnit? After all the same people know the same issues and are able to network with each other under the same organization. Let's see where the other key areas lie.

In terms of professional development, LMI serves as the organization that offers the CLTPS (If I were hiring CLTs, I'd ask you if you've passed the CLTPS yet...). However logistics makes it challenging to offer fairly priced workshops within reasonable distances for quite a number of people across the country. Those who live on the east coast have a bigger advantage due to the number of cue camps and LMI's effort to support as many of these cue camps by offering classes.

LMI also would support networking, after all it does have its own list of transliterators registered with LMI. However, do these transliterators get the opportunity to interact with each other on a mass scale outside of cue camps? Once in a blue moon, yes. We just need to remove barriers in place that make it difficult to orchestrate an opportunity for transliterators to immerse themselves in a professional environment focused on their own field. For RID, I see their conferences as their opportunities for networking, so we don't really have anything similar in scope and nature.
As for advocacy, that's a tough question and Fleetwood pointed out the issues in terms of supporting transliterators. They need a voice, but who and what does that voice look and sound like? Is it another organization that transliterators need to pay dues to in order to benefit from? Basically we're talking about 
unionization. Whatever your beliefs on the idea of unions such as the Teamsters or AFL-CIO, the fact remains that transliterators need a unified voice that truly addresses their needs.

Education, the Code of Conduct, and Advocacy efforts

In a nutshell, Fleetwood has basically described the overall picture of what transliterators typically face in the educational setting. I can attest to different situations, including one time where I was disciplined as a result of a transliterator's own intervention (the situation itself was innocent in nature, but I felt that she was a bit overzealous in her desire to get my attention...)

The need for positive dialogue is more important than ever in this time we live in with all the polarization taking place. Rather than take the approach of confrontational activism, the Cued Speech community has an opportunity to engage in constructive advocacy. Yet, it is important for both service providers and consumers to be part of the same process in addressing the different needs of this community of ours. 

What are our next steps in establishing a formal support system for transliterators?

The Big Picture

Questions remain on whether transliterators need to go as far as unionizing, or whether RID and TECUnit should look into a partnership. The big picture here is that transparency is key and communication is a must. Yet, it takes effort to facilitate communication among multiple parties and the type of transformative change that we envision will require patience and endurance.

Most people may not realize it, but TECUnit was certainly ahead of their time in regards to their attention to specific issues and their desire to address all the different aspects of being a transliterator, including navigating ethical dilemmas. If anything else, people should consider what it would be like today without TECunit and how we have gone in such little time in comparison to the history of sign language.
The NCSA does has a role in the field of transliterating as an advocacy organization, but how do they represent transliterators specifically? We have board members who are what I'd consider experts in the field, so at least there is some representation of CLTs on the board itself. What would a formal support system look like and how could we implement such a system?

These are questions for some sort of multi-organizational task force that would explore and present options with feedback from the community through a structured and transparent process. To achieve the goals we have in mind will take time and effort. Let's keep the conversation going on how we can move forward. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cued Language Transliterators and the need for a formal complaint process

In February of 2014, Dr. Khadijat Rashid, an economics professor at Gallaudet University, posted an open letter through friends on Facebook and the letter eventually made its rounds through the deaf and hard of hearing community. What made the situation more complicated was the fact the Wall Street Journal published a video interview of the interpreter in question. The matter seems to be in RID's hands. However, this isn't the only instance of alleged gross misconduct and serves as another example of why RID has its Ethical Practices System, part of a "tri-fold approach to establishing the standards RID maintains for its membership."

What can the Cued Speech community learn from this experience in regards to ensuring that consumers have a means of resolving issues with cued language services? What processes and safeguards do we have in place to ensure that service providers adhere to standards and conduct? In a nutshell, what are our options? At this point it's not clear and it really isn't anyone's fault, but rather a result of circumstances. We must then look at the current state of cued language transliterating as a profession and identify who are the key players that have a role in this profession.

The Key Players 

TECUnit has served as the national certifying body for cued language transliterators for over two decades now. Currently operating out of Utah, the organization doesn't have the same resources as its sign language counterpart, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). TECUnit has its certification program which includes a cue-reading assessment, but isn't really in a position to host professional conferences where transliterators can gain credits for continued education as part of their certification maintenance. The organization has recently established new protocols for maintaining certification, so there has been some movement in the past few years.

A next step or area of focus that TECUnit should address is its transparency. It's not clear how TECUnit is operated or who is in charge, or whether there is any deaf representation on TECUnit's board. There are many questions that many different people have, but it is TECUnit's responsibility to answer all these basic questions in regards to organizational management and the certification management process. I encourage TECUnit to consider how they can improve their transparency and community engagement.

That doesn't mean there has been communication between key individuals within TECUnit and the National Cued Speech Association. Some dialogue has taken place over the past few years behind the scenes, however it's my sense that we need to open the conversation up and include the community on what issues are pertinent and how TECUnit and the NCSA plan to address them.

Speaking of the NCSA, The National Cued Speech Association has served as a national membership organization that serves to promote Cued Speech interests in a broad manner from federal legislation to scholarships and funding for Cued Speech programming such as cue camps and workshops. The main difference between both organizations is that TECUnit had a focused mission in terms of supporting the field of transliterating, while the NCSA has a broad mission of expanding Cued Speech's interest in different areas.

What about NCSA's culpability in the matter of cued language transliterating? Well, you've got to take into consideration that the NCSA has a lot on its radar and we did have success with the inclusion of cued language services in federal legislation. That certainly provided some impetus for a number of transliterators to pursue actual certification in order to meet standards put in place by either district or state-level educational agencies. The NCSA could do more, but should they be responsible for serving as a mediator or arbitrator in resolving complaints against CLTs? I don't think so. That's TECUnit's responsibility.

Yet, before we even get to the point of filing formal complaints with TECUnit, we must consider who employs transliterators and what their role is. For the most part, the majority of transliterators are employed by educational agencies so any potential issues could be resolved internally before ever getting to the need for external involvement.

There is Language Matters, Inc (LMI), which serves to train and employ cued language transliterators and sign language interpreters. From time to time, LMI does play a role in helping place CLTs in an educational setting when there is a need for one. Beyond that, LMI offers workshops and administers the Cued Language Transliterator Professional Series (CLTPS), which offers undergraduate and graduate course credits for its training program. To this day, the CLTPS is the only formally accredited preparation program in the entire world for transliterators.

In my opinion, ideally every transliterator should go through the gauntlet of the CLTPS if they want to call themselves a "highly qualified" transliterator who has good marks on both expressive and receptive assessments and strong ethics. It's one thing to be certified, and another thing to be highly qualified.

Regardless of level of qualification, certified transliterators have a responsibility to adhere to the code of conduct they agree to as members of TECUnit. Any violation of that code of conduct needs to be addressed. The issue then is how do we go about addressing these violations. Each situation may be different, and the level of trust between the transliterator and the client may vary. In light of the different circumstances that occur in transliterating, it's important to help both consumers and the service providers be aware of what steps cuers should take to resolve any issues that arise.

Such a community agreement takes time to develop and requires the involvement of multiple parties. Therefore, it's important for the various organizations to collaborate together while including input from the community.

Let the conversation begin now.