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.


  1. This is an extreme example but this sort of thing is pretty common in the Deaf community. Unqualified interpreters getting hired for jobs they cannot handle. Big problem.

    1. There’s a lack of training in those who do the hiring. Even the specialized interpreter agencies get desperate to fill the jobs need and they’re forced to lower to bar to meet demand.

      1. By the time you figure out what’s happening, it’s too late, the “interpreter” is already there and hired. All you can do is complain after the fact and ask that interpreter never be assigned to you again but oftentimes interpreters are hired per event and not just for individuals, so you often get bumped into that sub-par interpreter at future events.

        1. Right, and word can be slow to spread, so bad interpreters keep getting sent out in the field to fail. It’s a precarious position for the Deaf to be so dependent upon someone who isn’t an expert, but has been hired as one.

  2. I would have thought that training and some for of accreditation would be the route to go – and one that is a universal standard – this may be a bad example but tennis referees come to mind – mainly because of the combination of skill sets required – the skill to do the job and the skill to have some other language skills outside of their own.

    Maybe this needs to come from the top down from some august body as the UN .

    I can only imagine from your comments here , now and in the past – just how frustrating and isolating this can be.

    1. Once you’ve passed the initial interpreter evaluation, you’re pretty much set for the rest of your life. Language is always changing and expanding, though, so a one-time verification doesn’t mean much in the scheme of decades.

      Ongoing verification in the field is important — though interpreters are rare who report their incapable colleagues.

      Google Glass — to record, for later evaluation — would be a great tool to help solve this problem, but I can’t imagine it would ever be allowed to be employed because the whole industry would come tumbling down in ashes.

  3. how awful and unjust for the community! 🙁

    I saw the memorial, today, with my students. they were suppose to write down notes.
    while watching the interpreter, i couldn’t help but sense that something was not quite right – even without ASL proficiency.
    “Why does he keep signing ‘name’?”
    confused, one student, who is hearing impaired and communicates with basic ASL and an aac device typed “?” on her iPad.

    1. Oh, it’s all such a lie. “It isn’t me who faked out the world, it was my schizophrenia.”

      The man is a fraud on an international stage. I just want to know who hired him for the job and thought he was competent.

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