The Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Interpreting communities are still reeling from the “Sign Language Interpreter” brouhaha that has captured the world’s attention. At the recent memorial service for the late South African President Nelson Mandela on December 10, Mr. Thamsanqa Jantjie was given center stage to involve the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to participate in the proceedings. While the 4-hour ceremony was still going on, complaints and reactions to the interpreter’s inept performance were pouring in. Deaf South Africans familiar with South African Sign Language (SASL) have confirmed that the language used was not SASL, and that he seemed highly unqualified. SignTalk consultant, Jon Wolfe Nelson, an RID Certified American Sign Language Interpreter, appeared on CNN New Day this morning with CNN Host Chris Cuomo (http://signtalk.org/Files/SignTalk/Nelson-Mandela-Interpreter.htm) to provide in-depth analysis and commentary on this developing story. According to Jon, “Any person who uses any sign language is going to use their face and body to convey the intent, the emotion.” Mr. Jantjie maintained a static facial expression throughout and his motions were rhythmic and repetitive.
The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) and the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI) released a joint statement reflecting their concern that he was chosen to interpret without any professional qualifications, evaluations and screening, and underlining the need for “trained, qualified interpreters to be used” . . . “This means professional sign language interpreters, who know the national sign language and deaf culture.”
As an organization dedicated to facilitating communication for the Deaf, Deaf Blind and Hard of Hearing populations in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), SignTalk is also troubled by the possibility that the Deaf and Hard of Hearing who attended or watched these proceedings were denied full access to the event. The role of an interpreter is to provide this accessibility. By not signing in a mode most familiar to those attending, he was denying the Deaf population the right and opportunity to be part of the ceremonies in the praise and remembrance of this great man.
Dr. Joseph Geliebter, founder and CEO of SignTalk, is also a clinical psychologist and he is tremendously dismayed that an individual such as Mr. Jantjie was cleared to interpret in such a forum. “At SignTalk, we are committed to providing the Deaf and Hard of Hearing with professional interpreters who are well vetted and fully qualified. We place a strong emphasis on the screening and interviewing process to determine that every interpreter is qualified. For a company to have referred or hired an interpreter that was not vetted is a travesty and a failure on so many levels, including the Secret Service.”
SignTalk’s extensive roster includes nationally certified Sign Language Interpreters/transliterators (NIC/RID/NAD) and qualified precertified interpreters/transliterators who are trained to work in Vocational, Political/Governmental, Educational, Medical, Legal, Technical and Corporate settings. SignTalk’s has provided interpreting services in many distinguished venues including the 2011 Presidential debate between Obama and McCain and, more recently, at the acceptance speech of NY Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio.