Fake Interpreters an Issue in the U.S., Too

south-africa-mandela-interpreterThe world recently turned its attention to the passing of the revolutionary former South African president, Nelson Mandela. Also making headlines was Thamsanqua Jantjie, who was hired to interpret sign language for Mandela’s memorial. Videos have gone viral of Jantjie, standing next to top world officials and leaders, gesturing repeatedly but not conveying any accurate portrayal of sign language. I’ve seen so much outrage from my friends, family and colleagues (with and without disabilities) about this event. This event gives me an opportunity to speak up about the issue of inaccurate and unqualified interpreters here in the United States. Most people do not know that the deaf community struggles on a constant basis to acquire qualified sign language interpreters. People who are not proficient enough in American Sign Language are out in our communities posing as “interpreters.” Entities with responsibilities are not always aware of their requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and may allow an unqualified person to interpret. This leaves businesses and government agencies vulnerable to ADA lawsuits while also leaving a person who is deaf without the ability to communicate. According to the ADA, a qualified interpreter means an interpreter who, via a video remote interpreting service or an on-site appearance, is able to interpret effectively, accurately and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary. Qualified interpreters include, for example, sign language interpreters, oral transliterators and cued-language transliterators. Sign language interpreters are more visible today than ever before. This is because the ADA requires businesses, employers and state entities to remove barriers to communication by providing services such as interpreters, and technologies such as assistive listening devices. Before the ADA, sign language interpreters were not professionals. Friends or family members (whom I call “helpers”) would have to assume the burden of interpreting for their loved ones simply because entities would not pay for the service. This meant that the person who was interpreting was never held accountable if there were inaccuracies in the interpretation of the information being exchanged. Oftentimes, providing an interpreter is the only way to ensure mutual understanding between deaf and hearing individuals. In the eyes of the law, providing an interpreter that is not qualified (either because the person erroneously poses as a professional or is a party partial to the situation) is the same as denying a person their right to equal and effective communication. Here are the official guidelines on sign language interpreters as outlined by the National ADA Network: • Public entities and private businesses cannot require an individual with a disability to bring another individual to interpret for him or her. A public entity or private business shall not rely on an adult accompanying an individual to interpret or facilitate communication, except: • In an emergency involving imminent threat to the safety or welfare of an individual or the public where there is no interpreter available; or • When the individual with a disability specifically requests that the accompanying adult interpret or facilitate communication, the accompanying adult agrees to provide such assistance, and reliance on that adult for assistance is appropriate under the circumstances. • A public accommodation shall not rely on a minor child to interpret or facilitate communication, except in an emergency involving an imminent threat to the safety or welfare of an individual or the public where there is no interpreter available. I hope this unfortunate event is an eye opener to those entities that hire sign language interpreters for the deaf. Entities need to make sure that the person providing the interpreting service has received the proper interpreter training, understands the vocabulary being used in the situation and is impartial. The easiest way to do this is to ask the interpreter or agency that supplies interpreters about their training, education, certifications and experience. Missoulian

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