WOU Alumna Finds Herself in the Spotlight

People at a press conference

Western Oregon University alumna Colleen Thayer’s new high-profile assignments have placed her in a spotlight that’s slightly outside of her comfort zone.

Even so, she gladly accepts the challenge, because she believes it’s important to provide accurate information to the deaf community during this unprecedented moment in history.

People at a press conference
Western Oregon University alumna Colleen Thayer is a Certified Deaf Interpreter.

A Certified Deaf Interpreter, Thayer has been interpreting press conferences for several government officials and agencies including Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Portland Fire and Rescue. The demand for her services at press conferences has increased due to the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“Nobody can be trained for these high-profile assignments in advance with the transition to virtual meetings and press conferences,” Thayer said. “We are not used to that type of work. It’s like going into a new job and within the first week you are put in a position where a lot of people are watching you and analyzing your performance without any warning or warm-up.”

Before the pandemic, Thayer ’01, ’07 worked as an interpreter throughout the state of Oregon and traveled out-of-state for specialized work assignments. Her daily assignments were in a variety of settings, including community meetings and medical and legal offices.

The pandemic has changed the work she’s currently doing from her previous one-on-one meetings with clients to virtual meetings and press conferences.

Despite the stress and pressure of her interpreting assignments, what she enjoys the most about her job is seeing a person’s reaction that lets her know the message was relayed successfully.

Thayer advises students seeking employment as interpreters not to wait for their first paid work assignment. Instead, she recommends they start with a safe assignment.

People at a fire station
Western Oregon University alumna Colleen Thayer has been tackling a new challenge by interpreting at press conferences.

“I had a student interpret for my daughter’s Girl Scout meetings, and it was a safe place where I can help give good, critical feedback on their work that may not have been interpreted well on the first attempt,” she said.

She also recommends self-employed interpreters practice every day to demonstrate their fluency whether it’s doing pro bono work, with a social media group, an organization or deaf friends.

“Deaf individuals can identify who is fluent and who is rusty and out-of-practice after not signing for weeks especially during this stay at home time,” she said.

Thayer said it’s important for new and experienced interpreters to be flexible and ready for the changes happening during this time. While interpreters like herself prefer to return to the old way of interpreting onsite, it’s important for them to learn to quickly adapt to online virtual interpreting assignments.

“Nothing in college will prepare students for everything in life,” she said. “Interpreters will grow and learn as they gain life experience and more awareness regarding current issues and the milestones that people go through in their lives.”

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