A Gathering Place of Our Emerging Practitioners

Kate O’Ragen, MA, NIC

Supporting Individuals Who Are DeafBlind

As many of us know, Dr. Dennis Cokely left us last August unexpectedly. This piece is not intended to glorify Dennis’ contributions to our field. This piece is to share an experience and its inspiration. Simply, Dennis was a teacher, a mentor, and family to many of us – he was always just a FaceTime call away. He also, as I personally recall, never told us what to do – instead he challenged us to decide, and to be mindful of why we decided what we did. His teachings reverberate with us still today; his legacy lives on. Some fond recollections of his words include, “It depends,” “How long is a piece of string?” and “Why?”. These are some of his responses to common questions that came from us, students of Dennis and emerging practitioners in the field of interpreting.  

I was fortunate enough to study under Dennis at Northeastern University (Class of ’05). I was fortunate enough to engage in countless debates about the field of interpreting. We would spend hours discussing the practices of the past, the current realities and future dreams of practitioners all within the framework of how interpreters can contribute to breaking down rather than perpetuating barriers to access.    

There is no doubt that there is rich and thwarted history of RID regarding the relationship between the organization, its members, and the Deaf Community. I remember my first RID Conference in San Antonio, Texas (2005) where the majority of attendees used spoken English and I was lost. That year, Dennis was not there. His mother had passed away and it was THE ONE conference he was unable to attend. As past President of RID and a huge supporter of the organization, he left a void: our mentor was not there to guide us through the experience, the politics, and answer the myriad of questions we had! I will never forget the impact that first conference experience had on me and my perspective and perception of RID and our membership at large.  

The Cokely Café was an idea that took root when the RID Communications Director, Bill Millios, reached out after realizing that our next generation can benefit from support at the conference. When he called on me to discuss how to provide a structured experience at this year’s conference, I was immediately transported back to my 22-year-old self, lost, confused, and frustrated at that conference. As we continued to brainstorm ideas, it was clear that this was an opportunity to provide space for our next generation, regardless of age, sex, race, or creed, to gather and ask a myriad of questions like, “What is going on?! What does this mean? Why did they say that? What happened that caused this bylaw? What the heck is a bylaw?” And honestly, the most important thing we wanted to make very clear is, we value you! You are so important to us! You are our next generation!  

So what did this actually look like? To be candid, it was an organic process. I had a vision, RID leadership supported it, and we had what ended up being an abundant week! There were moments that were inspiring, uplifting, sobering, raw, and humbling. 

The process: we sent out a call to the Emerging Practitioners who registered for the conference. We had 25 Emerging Practitioners respond to that call. I also requested the Chair of our Northeastern Alumni group to share this vision with our alums so we could have NU representatives present and connected during the week as well. A huge shout out to Jeanette Corso, Amanda Moyer, Lori Bellama, and Jaki Torres for being present that week for people. We had 10 Emerging Practitioners join us for the opening Happy Hour gathering on Saturday evening, which was a wonderful event to get to know each other and set the tone for the week. We had coffee every morning prior to programming so that we could gather, check in with each other, and prepare for the day. We also were able to have some inspiring guests during the lunch hour on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

The physical location of the Cokely Café was ideal. The main programs happened on the upper floor and to get there, you had to pass through the Cokely Café floor. Also, it was wide open; the visual sight lines were perfect, #deafspace. We welcomed our Keynote Speaker, Evon Black, on Monday and she guided our group through the realities of interpreter demands on Deaf performers as well as the reality of being a Person of Color and even an Interpreter of Color up against racism in our community. Tuesday, after a hot Business Meeting, we welcomed Kelby Brick to discuss the impact of his motion to limit the public membership list to only Certified members and share perspectives on the actual function of that public list. The biggest question that was not answered was: how does publishing the membership list as-is benefit Deaf people? Finally, on our last day, we welcomed Bucky Buckhold, to share his perspective on the value of Deaf people having control and choice in who provides their interpreting services and in what settings.  

All in all, the Cokely Café was a successful pilot. I want to close with a note to our Emerging Practitioners: 

You are brave to come to RID as Emerging Practitioners as we all know this field is not an easy one to get your foot in the door. We value you. We are here for you. Please continue to step out of your comfort zones; the more you do, the more you will grow. Remember why we are here: Deaf People. What Deaf People value is critical and important for us to understand. Always remind yourself that we are here to serve. And, as Evon says, “Don’t you let anyone dim your flame! Shine on!” Continue to check your biases and ask why. Dilemmas are values colliding. Don’t sweat the conflicts. Stay connected to those you serve and listen.  

We’ll see you in 2021 if not before! I’m only a FaceTime away. To RID and its leadership, thank you for making this conference feel different and consciously creating space to welcome our next generation. Onward!  

View Kate’s previously published VIEWS article, “A Case for Industry Disruption” Fall 2018: https://rid.org/a-case-for-industry-disruption/

Kate O’Regan, MA, NIC, is the President of Civic Access, a social enterprise that leverages its economic power to invest in local Deaf Community efforts, access and programming. She grew up in the green mountains of Vermont where she learned American Sign Language from local Deaf students. She is a graduate of Northeastern University’s Interpreter Education Program and holds a Master’s degree in Social Impact from Claremont Lincoln University. After a decade of coordinating interpreting services at the post-secondary level, Kate dedicated herself to providing reputable, accessible Deaf-centric services by listening to and working directly with Deaf consumers. Kate lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with her three energetic children and enjoys taking advantage of all the Virginia countryside has to offer, while continuing her love of learning and staying active. 

What did you think of this article? Send your feedback to the authors/editors by clicking here!