December 5, 2023

How do sign language interpreters work?

How do sign language interpreters work?

Written by Lenore T. adkins, ShareAmerica21. September 2021

In the United States, where millions of people are deaf or hard of hearing, sign language interpreters are ubiquitous in public places.

Using American Sign Language (ASL), interpreters translate the words of speakers at events, in hospitals, courthouses, schools, theaters, and government offices. They interpret at White House press conferences and when individual state governors address residents via television during natural disasters or a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 infections. Private companies hire interpreters to assist deaf or hard of hearing customers while shopping or in restaurants. (Many people with hearing difficulties do not use sign language.)

At an August press event in Jackson, Mississippi, Amy Ainsworth gestured as Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves answered questions from the press about COVID-19. (Photo: Rogelio V. Solis/AP Images)

In Georgia, David Cowan has been so animated at Gov. Brian Kemp’s news conferences that he has fans in the broader community who follow him on social media.

Cowan, who has been an interpreter since 1984, told Atlanta magazine that his role requires him to translate so people understand what he is telling them. “My audience doesn’t care about empty words or ways of speaking,” Cowan told the magazine. “They want the message. I extract the actual message from the many words.”

Sign language interpreting has been a part of communication in the United States for 200 years, but it was not practiced as a profession until the late 1960s or early 1970s, said Howard Rosenblum, executive director of the National Association of the Deaf. (National Association of the Deaf). At this time, training programs and examinations emerged to assess and certify standardized skills.

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A woman wearing a transparent face mask gestures downward with her hands (Photo: Rogelio V. Solis/AP Images)
Translator Sandra Hester wears a clear face mask so people with hearing loss can see her facial expressions as she signs at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi, in July 2020. (Photo: Rogelio V. Solis/AP Images)

Support from the legislative authority

Rehabilitation Act (rehabilitation law) The 1973 Act requires all federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding to provide barrier-free access to their events for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Since 1990, the law requires that people with disabilities be treated equally (Americans with Disabilities Act) Employers, state and local governments, and public-facing private businesses to enable people with disabilities to participate.

A woman shows a model of a trachea and bronchi, and another woman points out the location of her own trachea (Photo: Sean Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald/Getty Images)
Judy Shepard Kegel of the University of Southern Maine holds a model of the trachea and bronchi while student Polly Lawson translates the medical lecture into American Sign Language. (Photo: Sean Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald/Getty Images)

The law “opened up amazing opportunities for the deaf and hard of hearing,” Rosenblum says. It gave them access to higher education, jobs, medical appointments, court hearings, and entertainment.

Interpretation or entertainment?

Since 1992, American Sign Language interpreters have been provided for pop stars singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl, America’s premier sporting event. Millions of people watch this football match on television, largely because of the pre-match and half-time entertainment.

At the 2021 Super Bowl, Warren “Wawa” Snipe performed the national anthem Star-spangled banner, sung by country music star Eric Church and rhythm and blues singer Jazmine Sullivan, again in sign language. Snipe describes himself as a “deaf American Sign Language interpreter” who, unlike interpreters, can express himself more freely than carefully interpreting spoken English.

“Wawa Snipe has shown that you can teach American Sign Language creatively, and you can interpret these legendary songs artistically, just as singers do,” Rosenblum said.

Original text: How do sign language interpreters work?