Body Talk

Bohdan Ladashevska talks with his body for a living and he loves his job.
ASL Interpreter Bohdan Ladashevska

At the ripe age of thirty, Ladashevska, one of a small number of certified Interpreters to the Deaf in Canada, calls himself a ‘grandpa’ in the profession. Born in Winnipeg, Canada to two deaf parents, he’s the youngest of four hearing children and completely bilingual – fluent in both American Sign Language (ASL) and English. 

It takes between seven and ten years to become truly proficient in Sign, says Ladashevska. Jobs are plentiful but qualified interpreters are few and far between. Employers often hire people with very little training – what he calls ‘ASL 101’ – out of immediate need or ignorance. In the first five years after national certification was implemented by the Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada (AVLIC), only about thirty people were certified. The demand for skilled interpreters was so great that AVLIC started a now highly successful mentor program.

Although their strict code of confidentiality prohibits interpreters from describing specific assignments, Ladashevska says they are always in high demand. “Any possible situation you can find a human being in, we interpret for them,” says Ladashevska. “We’ve done major trials, we’ve done plays, political events, doctor and welfare appointments, board, council and Autopac meetings. We provide emergency service on a 24-hour basis.”

Interpretation demands empathy, versatility, and the willingness to mute ones own ego to avoid colouring a client’s intended meaning with your own opinion.

After his training, Ladashevska put his skills to work with a vengeance. As one of only a handful of nationally certified interpreters, he had more work than he could manage, and the wear of 16-hour days along with the psychological challenges of his work caused his body to break down. “I had a lot of scar tissue and muscle and tendon damage in my next. I went back to work, and two weeks later the symptoms were back.”

High Rate Of Work-Related Disability

He was twice on disability. Daily exercise, not eating meat, and warming up before work has changed his life but he’s seen co-workers’ health devastated. “People keep working because they have no choice,” he says. “My friend got to the point where she basically destroyed her arm. She couldn’t comb her hair, she couldn’t brush her teeth, she couldn’t even wipe herself. She’ll never be able to interpret again.” Ironically, their referral agency – Independent Interpreter Referral Service, which recognizes tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and neuritis as work-related – had to cancel its disability fund due to the high number of claims.

Interpreting is an enormous personal investment. Expected to be part of the community socially and politically, interpreters soon tend to lose their hearing friends. Travel is frequent and so is stress, and divorce rates among interpreters are high.

When Ladashevska fell in love, he brought his partner into the community. Even though theirs was a same-sex relationship, he says it was completely accepted, probably “due to the fact that Kevin learned sign language. He really worked hard at it. He volunteered all the time in the community, therefore they accepted him. We got invited places, we could dance at socials together, we were present as a couple.” Their relationship brought him back to Winnipeg – but their six-year union ended when Kevin was tragically killed in a head-on collision while Ladashevska was out of the city, working.

Burn-Out

There is a high burn-out rate among interpreters yet, when forced to leave their profession, they also find themselves leaving their deaf community, and the break-up is often painful for both sides. “It’s like when a marriage breaks up: ‘I’ve taught you everything I know. You’ve been a part of my life, you know everything about me, we’ve developed a relationship, and now you’re leaving, so I have to put all this energy into training someone else. We have to go through the whole thing again.’ It’s very frustrating for a deaf person to lose their interpreter.”

For Ladashevska interpreting will never end. “I’ll always be part of the deaf community. Even if I change professions, I’ll always interpret because I love it so much. For me, who I am as a person is part of my identity in the deaf community. I’ll never be able to break away. Nor would I want to.”

When Ladashevska talks with his body, it’s delightful performance art. I hope he keeps his word.

– 30 –

© Lynnette D’anna 2076. All rights reserved. Originally written for, and published by, Interchange magazine.

Resources Canadian Association of the Deaf The Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada (AVLIC) MB Association of Visual Language Interpreters (MAVLI) Independent Interpreter Referral Service (IIRS) Caption This!