The second day after Mandela’s Memorial we were greeted the news that the so-called fake interpreter Thamsanqa Dyantyi/Jyantie is schizophrenic. (His claim and apology is being met with a mixture of belief and doubt.) Whatever sympathy he gleans should be suitable to his illness. This does not excuse the government for hiring him. It has apparently fallen to the Deputy Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities to take the heat. Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu explains that Mr Dyantyi “is Xhosa speaking. The English was a bit too much for him.”
That same day, the Deaf community continued to respond to the swell of disappointment and outrage over the lack of real communication access for Deaf people to participate in the Memorial Service for Nelson Mandela. The thoughtfulness of the Deaf world’s formal responses are worthy of careful attention.
‘People of the Eye’ respond with a full range of emotions
An elegant news feature from H3TV presents a biography of Nelson Mandela. Presented in international sign language, I learned Mandela’s name sign and a powerful sign for apartheid.
“I can tell he’s thinking to himself,
‘Oh no, how should I do this,
well let’s see what I just did, I’ll do it again!'”
Deaf people have practice tolerating inadequate interpretation. Hearing people often disregard the quality of the interpreter, and many lose patience with this special process of intercultural communication. While “It’s probably safe to say that South Africa’s relationship with its deaf community is historically complex — much more complex than the “fake interpreter!” headlines would make it appear,” as Caitlin Dewey writes, it would be false to assume the problem with providing qualified sign language interpreter only occurs there.
A Certified Deaf Interpreter from the western United States (Utah), Jeff Pollock, makes a compelling argument that Hearing people should also be upset.
“The interpreter does not just work for Deaf people. They work for hearing people as well, [who] want to make sure that their messages are heard by the Deaf community.”
Mr Pollock briefly explains the sign language interpreter certification process in the United States and advocates that these processes of professionalization be taken more seriously.
Don’t move on too quickly…
The first gesture of Mandela-like reconciliation came, interestingly, from the same Deaf South African Parliamentarian who first alerted people to the incompetence of the ‘interpreter’ being televised from the stage.
Yesterday Wilma Neuhoudt tweeted, “Tata Madiba would have understood” while asserting her support for People with Disabilities (PWD). Her early Tweets correctly used punctuation too, in contrast with every news story I’ve seen to date.
Journalists and their editors have been responsible, it seems, in putting ‘fake’ in quotation marks, shifting the focus from the single person—”this male so called interpreter” as Ms. Neuhoudt pinpointed the problem—to highlighting the challenge of people not fluent in a sign language to be able to distinguish quality just by looking.
It is hard to know, from the perspective of the whitewashed west, if there are different cultural values at work, such as factors of relationship or an ethos of inclusion focused on someone(s) other than the audience watching the broadcast. It does, however, seem that Ms. Neuhoudt suggests gender as an issue along with the essential absence of effective communication.
A strong signal for “Hearing” people
This is more than a “flap over ‘hand flapping’” as it is being sensationalized by an LA Times headline. It is true that Deaf people are embarrassed and even describe feeling “humiliated.” Upon arrival at an interpreting assignment in the US yesterday, a young Deaf consumer barely said hello to me before launching into a detailed description of how upset he feels. Allies of Deaf people and Deaf culture, many of them professional sign language interpreters are also furious.
This is the opposite phenomenon to the sensationalized dehumanizing of Lydia Callis’ emergency interpreting during Hurricane Sandy. Then it was all about hearing people’s exposure to the language Deaf people use to communicate, and now it’s all about the show Hearing people will put on while still avoiding real communication.
But the Deaf community has a lot more allies now! Friends who don’t know sign language checked in and shared articles. Exposure to Deaf people and interpreters increases as Hearing people realize there are Deaf people living their lives alongside ours. They are letting us know, loud and clear, that they are watching, and they see.
Deaf people see what “the Hearing” do and fail to do
Of course Deaf people noticed the failure of communication. They always do. However they don’t always have the means to let us know they’re watching. In this instance, the failure is so large and so meaningful that—for a few moments, they have us by the ear. Interpreting is not a show. Interpreters do not perform for the sake of a show. Interpreters interpret to enable communication between people who would otherwise not be able to understand each other.
I am excited to talk with you today about the real value of interpreting, which is communicating pluralingual relationships into the future. Now, that’s quite a word, pluralingualism, but all it means is two or more languages used at the same time by people interacting with each other.
I’ve been thinking about interpreting in terms of history since the late 1980s, which is when I met Deaf people and began learning American Sign Language. At that time, the American Deaf Community was in the midst of an empowering movement for social change. The Bilingual-Bicultural movement included criticism of signed language interpreters. The criticism focused on what Deaf people called “the machine model” of interpreting. When the profession was established in 1964, it had quickly become dominated by interpreters with weak or no ties to Deaf culture.
The “intersection” in this blog entry on social resilience involves computer science and brain science. Combining the social aspect of resilience with the human-computer interface and education has potential to enhance sophisticated problem-solving around the globe. For instance, what if we gamed Twitter?
The “intersection” in this blog entry on social resilience involves computer science and brain science.
While Professor Beverly Woolf and colleagues from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst presented on smart tutoring at the Artificial Intelligence in Education conference, I listened to a webinar from Dr Dennis S. Charney, MD, from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai present data supporting his “resilience prescription” for individuals.
Stimulating processes of social resilience
Two of Charney’s eight resilience principles, however, involve other people: role models and a supportive social network. Combining the social aspect of resilience with the human-computer interface and education has potential to enhance sophisticated problem-solving around the globe.
The developing world has 4 billion mobile phone subscriptions. In Africa, average penetration is a third of the population, and in north Africa it is almost two-thirds. South Africa now has almost 100% penetration. In sub-Saharan Africa, mobile phone ownership is 30%. ~ Dr Beverly P. Woolf
One of the legacies of persistent discrimination is pent-up emotion. Lack of services and humane consideration adds up and seeks outlets. Get a group of sign language interpreters and Deaf people together to work on solutions to bad or absent communication and inevitably a flood of frustration will arise. Continue reading “Growing Pains: Emergency Management Interpreting”
Identifying the behaviors that indicate depression or other responses to trauma are crucial to maintaining emotional and cognitive balance before, during, and after interpreting in emergency management contexts.
Practicing how we’ll play means identifying gaps and weaknesses and moving to fill them. Washington DC Fire Chief John Sollers’ message is “We need to practice how we’ll play.” His message is aimed at fellow firefighters and professional first responders who have not yet been in a situation of needing to communicate with and understand a Deaf person who uses American Sign Language. Practicing how we’ll play means learning how to work with ASL interpreters to recognize differences in meaning and co-construct mutual understanding without erasing those differences or artificially forcing a meaning that is not actually understood. Learning how to communicate with the involvement of a third party is a skill that transfers to all kinds of communication situations, including cross-discipline communication in English as well as intercultural communication with non-English speakers of all kinds.
One reason that I have become so interested in the work of emergency management professionals is because Emergency Planners and First Responders are feeling a sense of urgency, on a large system-scale, that suggests the kind of intensity motivating the space program’s original mission to reach the moon. Emergency management professionals care about their work because they understand the relationship of what they do to achieving a larger vision: public safety and the capacity to recover quickly from disasters. This caring was in constant evidence at yesterday’s Whole Community Preparedness Summit sponsored by the Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council at UMass Amherst. It was also evident in a pilot training that the DC Mayor’s Office on Volunteerism, Serve DC, provided last year at Gallaudet University. One of the instructors for the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) team training, shared with the group how important the experience had been for him, saying that he had learned a lot and that direct interaction with Deaf people using interpreters should be a part of routine training.