Considering providing sign language interpretation at your next conference?

 | Interpreter insights

Maya de Wit is Calliope’s most recent member. She also represents a new departure for the network: whereas all the other members are spoken language interpreters, she specialises in sign language interpretation (SLI). We caught up with Maya to find out more about the specific characteristics of SLI and how to go about providing the best possible SLI service.

Maya interpreting in sign-language at European Commission

Maya, we are all delighted that, thanks to you, the Calliope network is now able to offer expertise in SLI to its clients. This is particularly important given that the use of SLI at formal meetings and conferences is on the rise. Why is that the case?

Yes indeed, we are seeing an increase, although a lot remains to be done to raise awareness of the importance of providing sign language interpretation. The service is not always offered even when there is a need. Remember, SLI makes an event accessible not only to those who communicate using a sign language, but also to those who need a signed presentation to be interpreted into a spoken language.

So why the increase? Why now?

Essentially because there is a growing recognition that a sign language is a language just like any other. This increased awareness is the result of extensive lobbying by various national associations of the deaf and sign language interpreters’ organisations and, at international level, by the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) and the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI). More and more governments are recognising their national sign language as an official language, although much still remains to be done in that respect.

The ratification and implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) have been decisive in encouraging meeting convenors to provide professional sign language interpreters at public events.

The EU institutions, and in particular the European Commission, are also seeing increasing demand for sign language interpretation, with assignments ranging from high-level Commission meetings to small consultative meetings. And in November 2016, the European Parliament adopted an important resolution on sign languages and professional sign language interpreters.

So, what do clients using SLI for the first time need to know about sign languages?

One important point which is often overlooked is that the sign language interpreting service is not only required during the formal parts of the event, but also during the breaks or networking sessions, in contrast to spoken language conference interpreting services, which are usually not provided at those times. I recommend that a deaf participant’s wishes be determined at registration. It is particularly important to find out exactly which sign language is required. For example, there is British Sign Language and American Sign Language and these are completely different languages.

What else do clients need to be aware of when requesting sign language interpretation, or a mixed team of spoken and sign language interpreters?

It is essential to know which sign languages are required and how many participants will use each one. You will need separate teams for each individual sign language. If parallel sessions are planned, additional teams will be required.

If there are panel discussions and one of the panelists is a signer, while other signers are sitting in the audience, you will require double the number of interpreters, since one team of SLIs will work facing the panelist, while the other team will work facing the audience.

The fees for all interpreters (sign or spoken) are in principle the same if they work the same hours.

Our clients are used to sourcing or requesting the technical equipment and sound-proof booths for spoken language interpretation. I should imagine your requirements are very different.

You are right. Sign language interpreters do not work in a booth. They usually work on the conference floor next to the main speakers, on the stage or next to the podium, so that they can be clearly seen. The AIIC Sign Language Network has developed guidelines, which are a useful resource for technicians and conference organisers.

Thank you so much, Maya.

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It is clear that Maya’s expertise and long-standing experience in sign language interpretation are going to prove invaluable for the Calliope network and its clients. Do not hesitate to contact us if you are considering providing sign language interpretation at your next conference.