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PC Graduate Develops Deep Respect for Ethical Standards of American Sign Language Interpreting 

Pocohontas Daniels, Phoenix College Student, plans to apply her ASL training as she pursues a business degree  at ASU.

When Pocahontas Daniels moved to Arizona in 2017, she reconnected with a cousin who has special needs, which inspired her to begin learning American Sign Language. Then, she enrolled in an introduction to American Sign Language course (ASL 101) at Phoenix College (PC), to improve her signing skills. While sitting at a local restaurant after class one day, Pocahontas watched a couple conversing in sign language and bravely introduced herself. She remembers fingerspelling her name, and still feeling a little awkward with the motions. 

Pocahontas smiles as she recalls the chance encounter with these (now) friends, who she credits with pushing her to continue her journey studying and eventually majoring in American Sign Language. Prior to the pandemic, Pocahontas volunteered as an ASL interpreter in various capacities, and looks forward to completing her degree in May. In fact, she will graduate from Phoenix College with an Associate of Applied Science in Interpreter Preparation, an Associate of Arts in General Studies, and a Certificate of Completion in Deaf Studies.  

Today, Pocahontas proudly describes herself as fluent in three languages; Spanish, English and American Sign Language. What surprised Pocahontas most about learning American Sign Language was the level of ethical integrity required for Sign Language interpretation. It seems logical that an interpreter would simply interpret what they hear into sign language for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. But in fact, interpreters’ must be highly conscious to not impart implicit or explicit bias into their interpretation. For example, Pocahontas says, if she was interpreting with a client receiving a phone call from what appeared to be a computer-generated telemarketing firm, Pocahontas would find the best way to interpret what she was hearing, without imparting biases about telemarketing phone calls. 

Pocahontas explains that the level of ethical integrity required to be an interpreter ranges from skillfully navigating scenarios of possible bias like that of the telemarketing example, to highly complicated scenarios where an interpreter might be interpreting an emotionally-charged situation in an education or medical setting. 

Scenarios like these are the focus of Ethics & Decision-Making for ASL/English Interpreters, a course offered by PC's Department of American Sign Language, Deaf Studies and Interpreter Preparation.  It provides students with the tools to successfully navigate the challenges of professional practice.

Pocahontas was recently named to the All Arizona Academic Team. All-Arizona students demonstrate academic excellence and intellectual rigor combined with leadership and service that extends their education beyond the classroom to benefit society. Phi Theta Kappa, the American Association of Community Colleges, Arizona Community Colleges, the Arizona Board of Regents and the Follett Higher Education Group help these exceptional students reach their educational goals by awarding a full-ride tuition scholarship to one of the Arizona state universities.

This fall, Pocahontas will pursue a degree at Arizona State University – W.P. Carey School of Business to bolster her business acumen, and plans to continue practicing ASL during her university studies, with the hope of becoming a nationally certified trilingual interpreter, and an independent contractor.

To learn more about Phoenix College’s American Sign Language, Deaf Studies, and Interpreter Programs, click here

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