Congratulations to Polly Lawson, recipient of the 2019 Betsy Reifman Award. Polly is one of the great unsung heroes of MERID. She graduated in 1982 with Associates Degree in ASL/English Interpreting from Merrimack Community College in Manchester, NH. After returning to Maine to begin her career, she discovered that Maine had not had an active chapter in RID for many years. 1985, she resurrected Maine RID and served as its first president. Her vision for Maine RID was two-fold: to be a collaborative organization with Maine’s Deaf Community and to be an organization that focused on ASL skill development and professional growth. Working alongside several long time colleagues, Polly was involved in bringing numerous trainings to Maine including the ever popular ASL Immersion weekends held at Pine Tree Camp and trainings on both legal and educational interpreting. She served on the committee for the first ALLIES conference in 1994.
Polly is also the queen of the comeback. After a hiatus of over a decade taken to homeschool and raise her children, she came back on the interpreting scene with a passion and dedication typical only of Polly. She not only retooled as an active full-time interpreter, but at the same time she finished her BA in interpreting at USM (2012). Polly recently served two terms as Medical Representative on the Maine RID Board and she currently serves on Maine RID’s Professional Development Committee, continuing her goal of bringing quality professional development opportunities to Maine.
Polly is constantly introspecting regarding her interpreting process. If you have an ethical decision that you want to bounce off someone, don’t go to Polly. It will not just bounce off. It will be chewed, digested, reconsidered and attended to with great care and attention. She is a wonderful co-mentor to all her colleagues. She has also taken countless practicum students under her wing, giving them rich interpreting experiences and valuable dialogues about their work. She is an important component of the support network for our colleagues and soon to be colleagues here in Maine.
But, her efforts have not remained only in Maine with MERID. She has also exported her resources and expertise to Peru where she has strongly impacted both the Deaf community and the interpreting community. After a six month stint with her family in Peru (2007) where she worked to support Deaf education, interpreter education, and congressional recognition of Peruvian Sign Language as an official language of Peru, she returned several times to present work, collect data, support local Deaf efforts to document their language as well as to drink the occasional Pisco Sour. She is currently working on a project to document the grammar of Peruvian Sign Language. She is learning to speak Spanish and has developed proficiency in Lengua de Señas Peruana—so much so that on her last trip (March 2019) she presented a 4 -hour workshop on Peruvian Sign Language to an audience of 100 participants, most of whom were Deaf Peruvians. This was in addition to presenting a lecture on Mercer Mayer’s book Frog, Where are You? to explore Ground/Figure constructions with 65 Deaf elementary school students at the Beethoven School for the Deaf in Lima.
Polly embodies the qualities of leadership, ethical insight, and commitment to interpreting and the Deaf community that we are looking to recognize with the Betsy Reifman award.