Being a sign language interpreter gives you a window into the most intimate details of people’s lives and can put you on the national political stage. Just ask CM Hall, a 2015 TEDxSalem speaker.
She served as a member of John Kerry’s senior staff during his run for president in 2004, including making sure ASL interpreters signed every speech. She has also interpreted for President Obama. Five times.
“That’s a pretty good gig if you can get it, right?,” she said.
If it sounds like she’s trying to recruit interpreters, it’s no accident. She helped launched a national campaign to inspire the next generation of ASL interpreters to help fill a shortage.
Now she works as project coordinator of the Western Region Interpreter Education Center at Western Oregon University. She teaches DeafBlind Interpreting and LGBTQ Studies.
When Hall discovered ASL interpreting in college, she was drawn to the gestures. It reminded her of theater because it embodied a conversation, but it was the social justice piece that hooked her for good.
“When I started to learn about Deaf culture, it sparked my social justice bend. This isn’t about a community with a disability,” she said. “This is about a community that is linguistically and culturally oppressed.”
Despite dedicating more than 23 years to learning the language and earning awards for her advocacy, she still recognizes that she’s an audist, someone who behaves or is treated as if they’re superior based on the ability to hear. If you’re a member of the hearing community, she said, you’re an audist. You can’t help it.
That doesn’t stop her from fighting for equal access.
For example, she coordinates a mentorship program that matches seasoned interpreters with new interpreters in 11 states and territories to boost quality access for the Deaf community. She also fights in little ways. In July, she started a change.org petition to add the ASL “I Love You” emoji to mobile texting applications. She said she feels lucky to do the work that she does.
In her free time, she advocates for the LGBTQ community. Yes, she does social justice for fun, too. Currently she chairs the Equality PAC for Basic Rights Oregon. To learn more about Hall’s life as a sign language interpreter, LGBTQ advocate and self-described queer, catch her TEDxSalem talk Oct. 3. Get your tickets at tedxsalem2015.eventbrite.com.