February 21, 2024

Gallaudet University Ombuds Explains the Evolution of Her Sign for 'Ombuds'

In a new video posted on YouTube, Gallaudet's University Ombuds, Liz Stone, CO-OP, explains how she adapted the standard American Sign language sign for 'Ombuds.' She incorporates references for confidentiality, informality, independence, and impartiality into a sign she feels better conveys the role.

Here's a full transcript:
Hello! Many people have been curious to know more about the Ombuds sign and the story behind it. When I arrived to this role in 2015, the original sign of Ombuds was this. I accepted it as the standard sign.
As time went by, it wasn’t until a visitor in my office during the session mentioned how the current sign for Ombuds didn’t quite fit with what the field was about. I took that as important feedback and embraced it for further reflections. About a year later, I attended a conference. While there absorbing the learnings, I saw someone accidentally sign Ombuds in the wrong location. Luckily, I caught it and it sparked my interest but didn’t understand why yet at the time except that it lit the light bulb from that conversation with the visitor and let it marinate some more to figure out if it made sense. Over time, it became more natural to sign Ombuds at the center. Languages, as we know, evolve. Same is also true with the Ombuds field. Our understanding and our relationship with the field have also aligned with the evolution of the Ombuds sign. Originally, the old sign of Ombuds represented “conscience”-a moral obligation to do the right thing- to advocate for justice-for a fair process. At the same time, it is also the same location/space for record keeping-for formal documentation, for formal authority. For example, staff, faculty, board, committee…all are strong in record keeping. Sign location is also related to characteristics, authority. For example, missionary, law enforcement, religion, character-this location is very prominent in emphasizing authority. Same is also true for high level positions, presentment, boss, or other entities like community, alumni and students—different placements to pinpoint roles/formal identities. Ombuds is not there nor here—so how to present that in the sign itself? So this sign at the chest makes more sense especially in alignment with the four principles of the Ombuds field.
Confidentiality, the first principle, the sign “O” represents the relationship between the Ombuds and the visitor-it’s a sacred space-the visitor took the first step to share what the issue is and the Ombuds embraces it by honoring this space and time to listen and examine together holding it-the sacred space-this sign reflects the relationship and work behind it.
2nd principle-Informality which means off the record. This sign for off the record is this–sideways or directly-still confidential. It also shows the absence of authority. The old sign gives false impression that Ombuds has authority and records-not so. This “center” sign makes that more explicit.
3rd principle-Independence. Again, I showed the signs earlier for different roles on campus. President, vice president, committee, faculty, staff, community, alumni etc. Ombuds at the center presents all parties without showing preference for one party over another—independent from all and still is a part of the University–to help navigate and solve conflicts without choosing one side or the other.
4th principle-Impartiality -means advocating for a fair process. It emphasizes balancing the scale of justice from being too inequitable. How Ombuds can help push for fairness and balance. The sign signifies balance from all powers.
All of this is in the sign for Ombuds.

1 comment:

  1. This is wonderful. So insightful. I love it! Thank you, Liz, for helping us all evolve our thinking and language about the role.