The Deaf Industry
Technology that allows deaf people to communicate more freely and easily with both deaf and hearing friends, family, and business associates, has become widespread throughout the deaf community in recent years. For example, a Mormon-owned company by the name of Sorenson Communications will provide free videophones that allow deaf people to use their televisions much like how George Jetson called his wife from work on the old cartoons. Other companies such as Purple Communications have developed computer software, and now even iPhone has apps for the same purpose. The deaf can sign face to face with each other using these videophones and applications. Also, the deaf can call hearing people through one of the many Video Relay Service (VRS) providers which serve as a go-between interpreter to speak to the hearing person and sign to the deaf person using the same videophone.
Sorenson’s big cash cow is the telephone video relay. They do have a Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) arm of the company that provides live interpreting between a deaf client and their hearing counterpart (doctor, lawyer, employer, etc.), but the interpreter is connected remotely via a videophone or computer. There is money to be made in that but nothing like what they can get with VRS.
Sorenson, the largest of the VRS providers, receives government money (via the FCC) to the tune of just over $5.00 per minute of telephone video relay services provided. They provide well over 500,000 minutes of service per month. They can afford to give the deaf free equipment that’s worth maybe a couple hundred dollars per unit because Sorenson is going to recoup the cost of equipment and be making profit before the deaf person has used their videophone for an hour. The average VRS interpreter may make from $30 to $40 an hour. In the bigger cities they can make more, up to about $60 or $65 in Manhattan, but this is not typical.[foot]The FCC uses a tiered rate system to pay VRS providers based on the number of minutes of relay interpreting they provide monthly. The rates for the 2010-2011 year that runs from July through June are: $6.2390 per minute for Tier I, $6.2335 for Tier II, and $5.0668 for Tier III. Tier I includes providers that total 50,000 or fewer minutes per month, Tier II providers total 50,001 – 500,000 minutes per month, and Tier III providers total greater than 500,000 minutes per month. The data is public information and can be found in several places on the web, including: http://vrsca.org/latest_news/6-28-10/ which is the Video Relay Services Consumer Association organization’s website. They also list all of the VRS providers in the U.S. at: http://vrsca.org/vrs_providers/.[/foot]
Interpreting for a company such as Sorenson (and there are a half dozen or more similar companies in the US including some extremely wealthy companies owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses) is ideal for a pioneer because he/she can work two 10-hour days and make $600.00 to $800.00 a week. That leaves plenty of time for knocking on doors looking for deaf people. (Deaf are hard to find because they look just like anyone else.) It’s a whole lot better than house cleaning or window washing.
New York City Sorenson was littered with pioneer Witnesses from all over New York and even other states. In one company in Southern California, it has been reported that all of the interpreters are Jehovah’s Witnesses and if one of them leaves the Watch Tower organization that interpreter is out of a job because of the shunning policy that requires the other interpreters to shun the one no longer a Witness. Former Witnesses point out that even at non-Witness owned companies that are favorites of Witness interpreters, they suffer from a hostile work environment and unprofessional conduct at the hands of Witnesses that costs them quite a bit of work and money.
What Do “Worldly” Deaf Children Learn From Jehovah’s Witnesses?
In many urban areas, there are few churches that offer religious teaching to deaf children. Many hearing parents of deaf children allow or and even take their deaf child to a sign language congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in hopes they will learn about God. It has been reported that some Witness signers, who are inept at interpreting, teach “worldly” deaf children frightening things, although not intentionally for it is their interpreting that is the problem.
However, like their hearing/speaking counterparts, Witness signers do teach children that if they don’t do what Jehovah says—they will die at Armageddon; that their “worldly” parents are to be respected to a point only—that the Society takes priority. And they teach children that education is not important. In this case, the Governing Body is to blame for these kinds of statements made to children, not a few bad signers. If there are a few signers out there who are saying something that closely resembles hell fire to describe Armageddon, insiders say it is only a few isolated cases.
Read what one former Jehovah’s Witness interpreter wrote:
What is scary about the work with the deaf is that often the parents of a deaf child will not know sign language. The field of sign language attracts many emotionally unhealthy people for some reason (inside and outside of Jehovah’s Witnesses), who are unethical and with a dreadful lack of language abilities. When a well dressed, well-spoken, Witness appears at a door with well produced videos in sign language, claiming to be involved in a ‘deaf education work,’ promising to teach morals and maybe even teach the family sign language – many parents cannot resist. What they do not realize is they just invited a very emotionally unhealthy person into their life, and into their child’s life – and this person has hours of unsupervised access to their children – even if the parents are present they often don’t know what’s being said. That is what is TERRIFYING to me about this situation.
As a side note, the way they explain ‘the generation’ in the April 15,  Watchtower in American Sign Language was particularly blasphemous. Because American and British Sign Language are based on meanings and not on any connection to spoken words, often times a sign language translation will seem to bear little resemblance to its English source and yet retain a synonymous meaning. This is fine and natural. However, when the meaning of a word has been completely changed by the Watch Tower Society (such as generation), the sign language ends up synonymous with the Watch Tower’s version and has little relationship to the original. ‘This generation’ becomes ‘this group of people’ and the original meaning of the word is completely lost.
Many deaf think the Bible actually says to ‘obey the Governing Body’ or ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only true organization,’ and so forth, and, outrageously, think the Bible actually directly ‘supports’ whatever doctrine the Watch Tower is changing at the time. They have used ‘group’ to go up the generic list – in other words they are using a vaguer term to allow the Society to imprint that sign with whatever meaning is needed. This is because the sign language team realizes that a direct translation of ‘generation’ directly contradicts the Society’s teaching. As such, no deaf Witness, who is not functionally bi-lingual, will be able to determine the accuracy of what the Society teaches in an area like this. It is difficult task for translators to have to deal with – and it stumbles many translators in many languages.
Granted, there are equivalents in sign language such as how to sign the concept of a wife being ‘submissive’ to her husband without making it look like the man is higher in importance than the woman – though this is what essentially Jehovah’s Witnesses believe. I would have to show you the signs – because the concept or the way Jehovah’s Witnesses believe it translates precisely in American Sign Language to a concept (roughly transcribed ‘UNDER’) that puts a woman in a lower position than a man – like a slave or employee ‘UNDER’ their master or boss. So the sign (roughly transcribed ‘HUMBLE’) is used for the concept of submission to hide the truth that it, in fact, places women under the authority of men in the organization. I think this is especially devious and harmful because psychologically it tells women that if they have a problem with this arrangement they are not humble. This is a hidden message in the translation (a direct manipulation of a word to sign equivalent) that women in spoken language congregations don’t get when they hear the word “submission” – though of course in general women in the organization are deceived to think that concept means what it does not mean.
It has become a fashionable thing within the organization to learn sign language – primarily because the publisher believes it is a simplified form of English. When he attempts to use his acquired ‘simplified English Sign Language’ he runs up against severe difficulties, and gets discouraged. Then he sees some of the publications that the British Sign Language team provides, and often is further discouraged by the quality of the signing – and thus leaves.
There is a very high turnover of publishers in the field and few deaf individuals doing the work; the ‘growth’ is minute, to such a degree globally that there are serious concerns in some countries, including the UK, regarding the viability of long-term sign language congregations. Growth figures are ‘massaged,’ and on further examination, do not really give evidence of ‘growth’ in the way many publishers believe.
Ways Used to Locate Deaf People
A former Witness reports that
a lot of the service time is spent searching for deaf people. There is no public database; deaf people are like you or I and can live anywhere. In a foreign language ministry like Chinese, the JWs can go to Chinatown. In Italian, they can go to Little Italy. In sign language, they have to go everywhere in the area and specifically ask if deaf people live there. There’s quite a bit of ‘busy work’ connected with the deaf ministry.
Another former Witness reported that when TTYs were used more there were national and local phone books for the deaf with addresses that were used to locate deaf people. TTY stands for Text Telephone. It is a special device that lets the deaf use the telephone to communicate. They typed messages back and forth to one another instead of talking and listening.[foot]http://www.abouttty.com/[/foot]
In some large cities there are “deaf” areas or buildings where one can go to find a large number of deaf people. Witnesses stalk out public telephones with TTYs attached or subways near areas where deaf people are known to congregate.
In the US as well as in the UK, Witnesses will go into a neighborhood where they see a “Deaf Child Area” or a “Slow—Deaf Child” sign and call at homes saying they are in “a deaf education work” trying to track the deaf child down. They will use that statement in libraries to try and get Watch Tower videos added to the stacks as well. In some sign language congregations, Witnesses build a database of people found – complete with maps – so over the years the records grow. They are encouraged to ask deaf people they know or meet for the names and addresses of other deaf people to add to the list. Some unscrupulous Witnesses have been known to give personal confidential information they obtained from interpreting jobs and working at deaf schools or agencies to the congregations anonymously to have Witnesses call at that person’s door a few days/weeks later.
Hearing congregations also go from door to door in their territory and ask if there are deaf individuals in the area and then call on addresses believed to have deaf persons there. They then pass those details to sign language publishers, often without the knowledge and consent of the deaf person, which is in contravention the Data Protection Act in the UK. Although many of these illegal practices were prevalent for years, it finally came to a head, and after a meeting at London Bethel such practices were discontinued. Yet, according to those in the know in the US, these practices are still in effect in some areas although the US Privacy Act forbids them. Continued on next page…