Tapestry of worlds comes together in Orlando

Originally appeared in Silent New, August 2001.

Sun, fun, and entertainment were the key features of the 17th national conference of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, held Aug. 6-11 in Orlando, Fla. 1,702 registrants participated in the conference, just beating out 1999’s record of 1,600 attendees.

The opening ceremonies featured Paul Wesselman, a motivational speaker who had the audience laughing immediately with his quips and stories. This year’s conference featured a stunning list of workshops and activities in a staggered format designed to provide participants with more opportunities to earn continuing education units (CEUs). “There were a possible 6.4 CEUs for participants if they attended preconference and conference events, which comes out to 64 hours of training and professional development,” RID President Ben Hall said. “That is really exciting, because it shows that our interpreters were truly afforded opportunities to further their skills and knowledge.”

Laurie Hunter, senior conference coordinator, said, “We decided to go with five general themes to fit in with the overall conference theme of ‘Tapestry of Our World.’ They included: the world around us, the world within us, our professional world, our future world, and why in the world do you want to be a leader?”

A noticeable feature of the conference was the international presence. Jay Scirratt, public relations coordinator for RID, said, “We had individuals representing ten countries, including Venezuela, Australia, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Brazil, Belgium, Germany, and others. It was just fascinating, and we were really pleased with their participation.”

“There was a woman who came from Brazil. She had to save up $65 per month for nine months to be able to purchase a plane ticket to Orlando. This woman only earns $200 a month, and for her to have to spend such a large chunk of her salary for the plane fare alone really touched home for me,” Hall said.

The conference wasn’t only about workshops, though. There were various features, including regional meetings, special interest group gatherings, and Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) gatherings. On Thursday night, what originally started out as a small gathering of CODAs turned into a get-together of 115 people at a local restaurant.

Also noticeable was the high visibility of deaf participants, including representatives from the National Association of the Deaf. NAD, which historically has had a difficult relationship with RID, has over recent years built a strong and cooperative relationship. NAD President Libby Pollard, Executive Director Nancy Bloch, Associate Director of Programs Nancy Rarus, and American Sign Language Teachers Association (ASLTA) President Leslie Greer were all active participants in many of the proceedings.

There were approximately 30 participants at the Deaf Caucus meeting, a group comprised of deaf interpreters that considers the roles of deaf people and interpreters within the interpreting profession. Concerns brought up at the meeting included the need of workshops to become more deaf-friendly, increased recognition of deaf interpreters, and more training opportunities at the advanced level for deaf interpreters.

A memorial was held for Lou Fant, one of the co-founders of RID who recently passed away. A slide presentation was shown, along with Fant’s wife, Barbara Bernstein, in attendance. “I am glad the RID honored my pop as I know, from our many talks, he felt that the RID’s mission is vitally important to opening the broader world to deaf people,” Fant’s son Lorn said.

He added, “It also warms me greatly that a professional organization can set aside time to remember Pop’s humanity with the slideshow and photo presentation…though I probably could have done without such a public showing of my 1970s fashion choices.”

JohnMark Ennis, an interpreter from the Washington, D.C. area who had just arrived from the Deaflympics in Rome said, “The RID for the most part was terrific. Most of the sessions were informative, but the best part about the conference was that it allowed me to meet many old friends, make new friends, and to network. It was well worth the trip.”

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