The Interpreter Impostor at the Mandela Memorial

Mandela’s memorial yesterday has ignited a firestorm today out of the Soweto rain.  No, not Obama’s failed message, or the non-Michelle approved Presidential selfie with other heads of State, but rather the fraud of an impostor posing as an interpreter for the Deaf during the ceremony.

The alleged sign language interpreter was so awful, in fact, that he had to have been in on the cruel joke that he knew nothing about even creating rudimentary signs.

Unfortunately, this sort of “faking it” is actually pretty common in the Deaf Community.  There are a lot of “professional” interpreters who are not well-trained but who are given jobs because they are cheap — even though they are incapable of proper signing.  The Deaf suffer and the incompetence gets a paycheck.

While not many working interpreters are as fraudulent on the level of what happened in Soweto — the end effect is still the same: The Deaf person has no idea what’s being said and has to guess about what’s really happening.

The matter is one of ignoring common core standards.  Who evaluates and determines the proficiency of an interpreter before making the hire?

Sure, there are a few agencies that provide a slim sort of confirmation of fluency, but in harsh economic times, and bad budgeting, one of the first things to find the axe is basic fluency in interpreted languages.

Here’s a YouTube example of the “interpreting” job that wasn’t in South Africa.  The man is just moving his arms.  He isn’t signing a thing:

Members of South Africa’s deaf community have previously raised concerns about the interpreter, who has been used at other African National Congress events. Despite this an ANC spokesman said on Wednesday: “I don’t know this guy. He doesn’t work for the ANC. It was a government event.” A spokesman for President Jacob Zuma said he was checking the reports to try to determine the man’s identity.

During his appearance on Tuesday, Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, the first deaf woman to be elected to the South African parliament tweeted: “ANC-linked interpreter on the stage with dep president of ANC is signing rubbish. He cannot sign. Please get him off.”

South African sign language interpreter Francois Deysel added on Twitter that the interpreter was “making a mockery of our profession.”

Cruel discrimination against the Deaf is nothing new in the world — not even the USA — the question is how do we prevent incompetence from becoming the new substandard of excellence?

The problem is one of expertise stratification. You can find a good sign language interpreter — but they are hard to find and are expensive — and so the hiring eye turns to the excuse of the bottom line and comprehension and involvement and engagement suffer as the Deaf become second-tier citizens again because they are forced to use non-quantified interpreters in order to hope to understand the world around them; and that disability-by-punishment is purposeful, avoidable, and the new dark trend in the dying pathway of what used to be the great bright light of the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act.


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