Q&A: Sign language interpreter finds inspiration in work with students

American Sign Language interpreter Danielle Box attends classes with hearing impaired students and signs the material for them. Photo by Rory Moore/The Et Cetera

American Sign Language interpreter Danielle Box attends classes with hearing impaired students and signs the material for them. Photo by Rory Moore/The Et Cetera

Danielle Box has spent the last five years as a sign language interpreter for students at Eastfield. She recently sat down with Et Cetera contributor Amanda Smith and shared about the motivation for her career choice and the joy she finds in helping others.

Q: Was becoming a sign language interpreter your first choice, or was it a fallback career?

A: I always wanted to be a sign language interpreter, since I was a little girl.

Q: What inspired you to become one?

A: When I was little, there was a deaf ministry at our church, and so there was a sign language interpreter that was there interpreting church. And I just kind of fell in love with the language and was like, “I want to do that when I grow up.” So I started learning it.

Q: On a given day how many students do you help?

A: It’s different every single day. Some days I see maybe one student, some days I see 20.

Q:  What services does the Accessibility Services Office provide for students?

A: We provide sign language interpreters. We provide carte services, which is like closed captioning, like you would see on your TV. We provide [screen] readers, and if we have students that need help with reading, we can have a classroom assistant go in and help in classes if they need it. Some of our students can’t write for themselves, so we’ll have somebody that goes in and scribes for them or takes notes for them during classes. We provide extra time for tests or assignments, and really anything that we can provide to a student that would help them to be successful in their class.

Q:  What do you like about being a sign language interpreter?

A: Oh, I love that every day is different. I get to go into different classrooms, into different meetings. I get to meet a lot of new people, whether it’s the deaf person that I’m interpreting for — a lot of times it’s the same person — but they will be meeting new people, new teachers, new classmates.

Q: What’s the most challenging part of working as an interpreter?

A: Oh my gosh, the most challenging part is learning new vocabulary. All the time. For example, just this morning, I had to go into a chemistry class. And I went in there as a sub because somebody else was absent. So, it wasn’t a class that I was normally in. And of course, they’re talking about all these chemistry terms that I don’t necessarily know. So it’s just learning new vocabulary every single day.

Q: What do you want to achieve in helping students?

A: I think my biggest goal is to make sure that students know that they can do whatever they put their mind to. If they like taking a chemistry class, then they can do chemistry. It may be harder, but you can do it if you really put your mind to it.

Q: Tell me about your educational background.

A: I have an associate degree, but I just recently got certified as a sign language interpreter, and now I’m working on my bachelor’s degree. I am currently attending Grand Canyon University in Arizona, so I’m doing all online classes. I just started in August, and it’s going well. I like it.

Q: What inspires you?

A: Honestly, what inspires me the most is our students. You know, we see a lot of people that come in, and you would think, “Oh, that person doesn’t have use of their arms or legs, or that person doesn’t have eyesight.” But they can do any and everything that any able-bodied person can do.

Q: Do you feel like you can relate to them?

A: I think that I can relate to them in the aspect that I’ve been doing this for a long time. So I understand a lot of what they might need or want while they’re here at school. I may not understand all of their challenges. You can’t understand what it’s like to not be able to see or hear.

Q:  What advice do you have for students when interacting with students with disabilities?

A: I wish they would treat everybody the same, whether they have a disability or they don’t. I wish that they would just be friends and be kind and caring to all people. I wish the world was like that, too. Wouldn’t it make life easier now? Yeah, that’s a big one. I think a lot of times, we don’t realize that we are not showing kindness or caring to people. People that grow up without any kind of disability, they don’t realize that them just not talking to somebody is not being kind, and I think a lot of that comes from not knowing how to approach somebody with a disability. So I don’t think that they’re necessarily always doing it on purpose, but I just wish that they would just treat everybody the same. Just be yourself. And just talk to people.

Q: Do you have any favorite hobbies?

A: Really just hanging out with my kids and my granddaughter and playing. That’s probably the thing I enjoy most. I go to church, and I like to just hang out with my friends.

Q: What’s your fondest childhood memory?

A: I think the memories that stick out to me the most are that my grandparents had a farm. And for Thanksgiving, everybody would get together for Thanksgiving and cook together and just spend family time together.

Q: What advice would you give someone if they’re planning on becoming a sign language interpreter?

A:  My biggest advice is to have a relationship with deaf people. Don’t try to learn from YouTube. Don’t try to learn from just going to class. You have to hang around people and build relationships. That’s going to be the best way for you to learn.