Sign Language Interpreters: bridging Deaf and Hearing communities

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Nelson Mandela

I know that I blogged earlier today about the Fake Interpreter scandal at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, but I would like to stress further on it.

Sign language interpreters are the bridges between the Deaf community and the hearing public. Without them we would not have been able to voice our thoughts, participate, be educated, and represent ourselves using our own language.

I’ve worked with numerous Auslan interpreters over the last decade, especially throughout my university years. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate them and the hard work they do to convey information so I am able to learn and interact with others.

The fact that a fake sign language interpreter was used at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service is appalling, thus an amazing profession was mocked. Like I said earlier on Twitter today, my heart breaks for all sign language interpreters worldwide. However, there is a positive to this: we can now raise more awareness about the importance of sign language interpreters by using this example of Fake Interpreter.

In the United Nations Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), Article 9 recognises the need of accessibility, which states that state bodies must provide professional sign language interpreters.

Article 9, Section 2(e): To provide forms of live assistance and intermediaries, including guides, readers and professional sign language interpreters, to facilitate accessibility to buildings and other facilities open to the public; United Nations. 2008.

Sign language interpreters must be professionally qualified – for instance, in Australia, the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) accredits Auslan interpreters. Australian Sign Language Interpreters’ Association NSW explains here how one can become an accredited Auslan interpreter.

Article 21 recognises the freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information through promoting and recognising the use of sign languages. Under this Article, deaf people have the right to express themselves, to give their own opinions and obtain access to information through sign language. This is usually facilitated through professional sign language interpreters.

 Article 21(b): Accepting and facilitating the use of sign languages, Braille, augmentative and alternative communication, and all other accessible means, modes and formats of communication of their choice by persons with disabilities in official interactions;

(e): Recognizing and promoting the use of sign languages. United Nations, 2008.

Like I said in my earlier post, it is essential that you ensure the interpreter/s you book are qualified and accredited.

In fact, when I was a student at the University of Southern Queensland and the Disability Services booked a team of interpreters for me. I was astounded to discover one of them was not qualified AND accredited, so I made a complaint to the Disability Officer. I asked her why she had the audacity to hire someone who could sign to interpret for my lectures and tutorials, and she said that there was a shortage of interpreters in Toowoomba. I stressed that it was inexcusable and they could have contacted Deaf Services Queensland to source interpreters from Brisbane. It did not happen, as the semester was drawing to a close but I did ask them not to hire that lady for the next semester if I was to go back. I did not go back, as I had transferred to Griffith University for the new semester. Griffith University has a fantastic Deaf Students Support Program (DSSP), and the people there have been phenomenal in ensuring all Deaf students are provided with Auslan interpreters and trained notetakers.

I have found the DSSP to be amazing, and without them (amongst many other people!) I would not be here today. They have supported me all the way from when I first started there. They have taught me a lot than they realise – especially when I transferred to University of Western Sydney (where I later graduated from) and had to advocate to change the interpreter booking system there, as it wasn’t working when I first started. I can now say that the Disability Services at UWS has improved a lot in the last 4 years, and I am humbled to see that.

With the introduction of the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF), Deaf and HoH employees are now able to access funds for Auslan interpreters at job interviews and/or in their workplaces. Unfortunately, it caps at $6000 annually, but it’s better than nothing.

Sign language interpreting is not cheap, but a very valuable profession. It’s worth every dollar when you hire and work with amazing sign language interpreters. It’s not an easy job, but they love what they do. They love meeting and working with a large variety of people, and it also includes a lot of travel. The jobs they do varies each day – it’s not constantly the same. They do make your day enjoyable, and they enjoy getting to know their Deaf clients. There is so many funny moments with sign language interpreters – in fact, I have quite a few myself!

Tutor: So, blah blah blah…Qatar…blah blah blah

*Student leaves and interpreter does not see*

Tutor: Bye!

Interpreter: Bye Qatar!

Me and co-interpreter cracks up laughing.

Sign language interpreters are essential to the Deaf community worldwide, and we should appreciate them for the hard work they do in order to bridge the two communities.

Fake Interpreter No More!

Sx

 


 

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