Among Deaf academics and ASL interpreters, I have a bit of a reputation for interpreter (“terp”) prep. Here’s the (very lightly edited) email I sent for interpreter preparation last week. It took about 90 minutes for me to write everything, and is roughly par for the course in terms of the time and effort I take to prepare even an experienced interpreting team – half of which has worked with me before – for a low-key meeting during which I will not be making a formal signed presentation (in other words, the lightest possible prep load for me).

[Greetings, etc., including hellos from other Deaf friends who know the interpreting team]

[Interpreter A] has already met me, but my usual one-pager consumer profile is at [URL].

I’m [PHONE NUMBER] for text messaging or Signal anytime, and will be on campus by 10am chilling with an old friend - I do ok in oral mode 1:1, especially if the other person is lipreading-considerate and I know I’ll have badass interpreting afterwards and can blow all my lipreading energy on an hour or two of intense concentration with minimal fear of consequence.

So: thank you in advance not only for the afternoon of communication, but the ability to have a morning with my friend as well. If you want to swing in early (don’t need to terp, but if you want to get a sense of my rhythm/vocab or ask questions) text me and I’ll get you directions to wherever we are on campus.

Other note that is not usual for me: I broke my ankle 3 weeks ago and will either be in a manual wheelchair or a knee scooter tomorrow, which may be the occasion for me switching to speech while moving because moving now requires the use of my hands.

I want to sign if/when possible, but in part because of locomotion constraints, I’ll probably do some combination of speaking/signing. This is my usual! It truly is ok when I switch to voicing or to ask me to hand you a phrase or a pronunciation. With folks like you two, it’s not about your skills - it’s about my efficiency, and how I want to translanguage to both (1) communicate about a topic with hearies, and (2) make the interpreting/translanguaging process transparent so they get more of a behind the scenes look at our machinery (so they can join in).

My goals: Network the hell out of this, learn about their projects and tell them about mine, make friends and set up for broader networking in the future… Also expose a bunch of “here’s what it takes to make comms access work” process, because (1) they will be fascinated and ask really smart questions, and (2) I am trying to lay the groundwork for having allies advocating for access stuff in this domain going forward, so.

This kind of intense enthusiastic socializing is a specialty of mine. My name sign is derived from a nickname that is usually translated into English as “puppymel.” If [Interpreter A] hasn’t already gotten that story from our mutual friend [NAME], I will tell it tomorrow at some point - remind me.

Also at this point I should note that I have ADHD and you’ll see those obvious marks all over this email AND in the way I do conversations tomorrow.

I’m spending the afternoon with the folks from

The context for me visiting is that we’re both members of a Ford/Sloan foundation funding cohort for research on digial infrastructure ( We met for the first time last week in NYC, they found out I was going to be in California this week, extended an invite, boom, here we are.

Their project for that (copy-pasted from that website) is: Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Society: What makes an open-source project “critical digital infrastructure”?

I am one of the two members of the team that is: Rochester Institute of Technology: How do mismatched conceptualizations between maintainers and users of a FOSS digital infrastructure project interact to affect the community health and thus sustainability of such projects?

(Not copy-pasted from the website, but also relevant:) We are looking at ontologies of ideal/sustainable FOSS project communities - the assumptions about being and reality around FOSS communities, or questions about what sustainable projects are, and what it means to be one.

If you send me the email addresses you use for Google Docs, I will share a couple documents with you with our project proposal so you can see what we’re doing if you’d like. Fun fact: the other team member, a CS prof named Steve, is a former hearing interpreter and has a Deaf partner, so that’s been amazing, and has been the reason I’ve been able to function during spontaneous research meetings (our backup for no-terps is “Steve sign-supports as he can, Mel speaks, it’s sloppy but we manage not to die”).

People from the lab: Lucy is director (will not be there, is in Australia, but is one of the two I met in NYC). The other one I net in NYC is Argyri, a postdoc (will also not be there, is in… Europe somewhere? but will try to videoconf in at some point).

Actually physically present: Rob is lab co-director, Heather and Laura staff the Lab (Heather coordinated my schedule and your booking), Jonathan and Toussaint are post docs, and Nichelle and Brigitte are undergraduate RAs at the Lab.

We can set up temporary name signs for folks on the fly if need be. I’m fairly certain I will quickly tire of fingerspelling anything longer than 5 letters, so.

[LIST OF NAMES] are just starting to look into disability related research, mostly having to do with blind/low-vision. They will probably have questions about disability-type stuff, which I’m happy to answer, but I’m also going to be performing a bunch of “so, I happen to be disabled! but I do not actually study/focus on this stuff outside of my own lived experience / what I need to do for survival, because really I’m interested in FOSS communities and engineering/computing faculty development!”

Vocab is likely to be sociotechnical type things - think “sociology and philosophy of computing” and you won’t be far off. There’s some relevant vocabulary at Things from that we’re likely to use tomorrow:

  • code (also used as a general morpheme; you’ll see this tomorrow a bunch, probably; [Interpreter A] is familiar with it)
  • source (code - etymology of the ASLCore sign is “the place you take the code from” - I now do a mildly more abbreviated version than the online video shows, but it should be pretty recognizable.)
  • open source - I sign “open” as in “to open the door,” but expressively, I’ll often orient it more palm-downwards as in opening a box; receptively, I don’t care. Notably, I don’t abbreviate this as “OS” because, to me, that stands for “operating system,” but this is something I can distinguish/expand on the fly if needed.
  • FOSS, which stands for Free and Open Source Software. Technically, this is distinct from “open source” – sometimes. You can safely assume the two words are interchangeable in either direction unless someone is trying to make a distinction between the two, and I’ll expand/emphasize to clarify if that’s the case for me. It’s pronounced “fohss” (say the pseudoword, don’t sound out the letters) and I’ll generally just fingerspell the acronym
  • digital - aslcore has a sign; you can ignore it for this context and just use the D-initialized “number”, the sign ended up being more useful for conceptual explanations of analog/digital conversions, at least so far.
  • infrastructure - aslcore is accurate, etymology is “stuff at the foundation of your code-related thing,” and then you can describe layers of a code stack over it.

Nontechnical vocabulary that will likely come up:

  • ontology (noun) and ontological (adjective): Ontology is the study of being and reality, and/or one such reality being studied (very roughly speaking). I will often sign this as the version of “world” that’s a gestured globe, followed by “study” (and then “world” as a classifer if I’m setting up multiple ontologies to talk about). Sadly, I do not yet have a better way of distinguishing between the two for voicing purposes than fingerspelling “y” at the end of one, and “cal” at the end of the other… it doesn’t matter when I’m signing directly to someone about it, and I haven’t yet had a lot of opportunities to let other folks voice me on it (although [FRIEND] tried yesterday when I met his colleagues, to hilarious effect). Suggestions welcome, and I apologize in advance.
  • Ontological plurality / ontological diversity - “ontology” as above, and then “many” for the first and some variant of “varying/diverse” for the second. I’ll mouth the hell out of it or can modality-switch the first couple times until we nail it.
  • Epistemology (noun)/epistemological (again, sorry, noun vs adjective distinction have not-yet). It’s “knowledge” initialized with an E (I’m not thrilled, but whatever.) Epistemology is the study of knowledge, and/or one such system of knowledge being studied. I will almost always assign these to one or more ontologies, so I will generally set up an ontology in space somewhere, then sign “epistemology” and then point to the applicable ontolog(y/ies).
  • Onto-ethico-epistemolog(y/ies) - (I’M SORRY) the things my research centers around, b/c ontologies, epistemologies, and questions of power/privilege/ethics within them cannot be separated. I sign this “ontology ethics epistemology” and then use the sign/handshape for “setup” as a classifer because I’ll sometimes transition that handshape into “expand” and then use the fingers of the open 5-hand to enumerate various components of it.
  • Assemblage (ALSO VERY SORRY FOR THIS, it’s French so it’s pronounced “ah-sem-BLUHDGE”) means “a collection or gathering of things or people,” but the membership of those collections is not static. I’ll sign “group” and then wiggle my fingers, again with tons of mouthing.
  • Paradigm / paradigm shift - in the Kuhnian sense of “a fundamental change in the basic concepts and experimental practices of a discipline,” or one such set of concepts/practices. Sometimes used interchangeably with “ontology” in lay usage, but I actually distinguish between them: paradigms presuppose ontologies AND epistemologies and are underlying assumptions that determine how people approach a situation. The shifting collections of underlying assumptions constitute assemblages that - for me - are either ontologies or closely related (I am still figuring this out). Sign-wise, I am a terrible person: for “paradigm” I’ll generally fingerspell quickly and then switch randomly between “vision” and “perspective” and “mind setup” and “think approach” for “paradigm,” and do “shift” (based on “way,” but often placed up by the head) for “paradigm shift.” And… yeah, this is one of the reasons that I usually oral-mode research stuff, and expose this process to hearies when I don’t, because they jaw-drop when they see this sort of meaning-negotiation.
  • Narrative accrual - collection of stories from a community, so I sign “story collection heap.”
  • Community of practice - a community of people who share a common practice in a domain; I sign “community practice group” but sometimes this gets abbreviated into a fingerspelled “COP” because it’s often shortcut-typed as “CoP.” CoPs and narrative accruals co-construct each other.
  • I have somewhat snarky name signs for some common theorists Foucault (pronounced “FOO-coe,” because… hearing people) and Derrida (pronounced “deh-ree-DAH”) that I can show you when they come up, and might expand for the hearies since they crack up every Deaf theorist I’ve ever met.

[Closing sentiments, signature]

Yep. That’s every single meeting with a new interpreting team, and this particular team was less-new to me than usual (one person had interpreted for me before and knew some of my context, vocabulary, signing style, and personality).

I’m good at prep, and I enjoy doing it – it forces me to think through the meeting as well – but it is a lot of time that hearing people do not generally need to spend. This is part of the invisible labor I do to create access for myself and other Deaf signers in academia.