ASL interpreters must have a bachelor’s degree and undergo certification through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
As more information about the fake sign language interpreter hired for Nelson Mandela’s memorial becomes available, U.S. interpreters and trainers expressed outrage and sadness that sign language has not been given enough respect.
“The deaf community was outraged, it was all over Facebook and email, we couldn’t believe it was happening,” said Brenda Aron, an instructor of American Sign Language and interpreter trainer in Seattle. “It’s like putting in a janitor to interpret in a high-level meeting. It was just awful.”
“We watched him for about ten seconds and knew that he wasn’t signing anything real,” said AmyRuth McGraw, who lectures in the American Sign Language program at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
“There was utter and complete outrage because the level of disrespect was so huge,” in that those organizing the event did not take the language needs of deaf South Africans seriously, said Melanie Metzger, chair of the Department of Interpretation at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. Gallaudet is the only bilingual American Sign Language/English university in the nation.
“I’ve heard some people say that symbolically that there was an attempt to provide an interpreter, and it was so visible and on an equal level with the speakers, so that’s a positive. Though its still outrageous that he wasn’t signing,” she said.
“You would think he’d apologize to the deaf community,” Aron said. “Hopefully this will be a wake up call over there to set up some checks and balances for interpreter qualifications.”
One problem is that there do not appear to be any sign language interpreter training programs in South Africa, said McGraw. In the United States there are close to 200, said McGraw.
U.S. certification standards for American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters are quite stringent. Interpreters are required to have at least a Bachelor of Arts and to have completed a certification program through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf or a state registration body, said McGraw.
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