August 8, 2016

An Interview with Sign Language Interpreter Rhonda Andrews


Today's bitch has done something a lot of us experience: a career change in our forties. Rhonda not only started a new career at forty-two, she did it with a husband and two daughters at home. She found something she was passionate about, got curious, and did the hard work of turning her passion into a job.

I identify with this because I left a career in my late thirties and started a business. At a certain age, women in the workplace start getting ignored and expected to stay in place and ride it out. But some of us can't do it. Some of us realize there are other things we're good at, things that may make us happier, so we jump. If you see parallels between Rhonda's path and mine, that's because she's no bitch, she's my mom. Meet today's bitch, my mom, Rhonda Andrews!


What is your job title and where do you work?

I'm a sign language interpreter at the Tennessee School for the Blind. I work with a visually-impaired, deaf student.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

As a young mom, I would take my two daughters to my grandmother's house to spend the weekend. We did this quite often. Every Sunday morning during the church services on TV, there was a woman in the corner of the screen signing the worship service. I was fascinated, and I was hooked.


What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

I was working for a wonderful doctor in Nashville and we had a profoundly deaf patient that for some reason liked me, and we communicated through note writing. I asked the doctor if there was any way we could learn to communicate with her. We called The League for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, which has been renamed to Bridges. He paid for everyone in the office to take sign-language classes. Everyone but me dropped out after the first class. I ended up taking two years worth of classes and became very involved in the deaf community.

Long-story short, I was twenty-nine and Evelyn was seventy years old when this friendship started. We were friends for ten years. The whole ten years I prayed to work with deaf children. It never happened. One day I dropped Evelyn off after a doctor's appointment and something was different. She was not herself. I left there and prayed that if the only reason God had me learn sign-language was to be Evelyn's friend and advocate, then I accept that. On Sunday, she had a massive stroke and only lived three days. I left the hospital crying and begged God to not let me lose my signing skills. Three months later a deaf lady visited our church and I started interpreting for her. She came to the house and worked with me one-on-one to become an interpreter. This continued for three years. This got my skills good enough to be hired in the school system as an educational interpreter. At forty-two, I was starting a new career and I was scared to death.

I worked three years for Rutherford County, then was hired by the Tennessee School for the Blind to be an interpreter for a totally blind-deaf nine year old. I interpreted for her for twelve years doing tactile signing (Helen Keller method of signing in her hands). She graduated in 2013 and is getting ready to start her junior year of college. I was blessed with another student who has some vision, but is also deaf, and I am starting my fourth year as his interpreter.


Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

Because I wasn't "certified" I tended to feel inferior and doubted myself and my skills. But I knew this whole journey was God-ordained, and how can I question that? If God places you somewhere then stay there until that door closes. You may not feel qualified, but do it anyway. Do it scared and you will be blessed beyond your imagination.

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

I wanted a college degree in Interpreting, so at age fifty-two, I went back to college. I'm half way through getting my degree, but I put it on hold a couple of years ago. I plan on starting back and finishing so that I don't look back and feel like a college drop-out or a failure in that area. My goal is to cross the stage and get my degree without the use of a walker!


What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Anything creative I can do with my hands: crocheting or cross-stitching. Also, sitting on my back porch swing and reading a good book.

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?

Being the eyes and ears for someone that goes through life with neither of the two. Watching my first student blossom like an unfolding flower as she craved language, and all the ah-ha moments in my twelve years with her. She graduated Salutatorian of her class.


What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Email, Facebook, Pinterest.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Ride home on the back roads through the country and just soak in the silence and beauty of nature.


What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

People assume that I know every sign known to man. You never ever stop learning when it comes to sign language. Also, people do not understand ASL sign language. I do not sign word for word, but I sign the meaning and the concept. Teachers will sometimes show a movie and say, "Hey, you get a break today!" No, I don't. My student is blind, so I have to interpret the whole two-hour movie. Not understanding deafness and all that entails is my hardest obstacle to explain to people. 

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

Not everyone understands that I have to prepare to be able to do my job successfully.


Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

American Ninja Warrior and buttered popcorn.

All photos courtesy of Rhonda Andrews

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Illustrator, Lauren Lowen!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

1 comment:

Donna Fridgant said...

Great interview! Micawamba, you are an inspiration!

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