Sign language interpreting, along with multilingual interpreting, is used to enable effective communication at conferences all over the world.
Clearly, Deaf and hard of hearing audience members benefit greatly from this service, but only if conference organizers are able to address the challenges involved.
Interpreting sign language is not the same thing as interpreting a spoken language. As such, we’ve prepared a few handy tips for conference organizers who wish to use sign language interpreting and do it right.
Get The Speaker and Interpreters Together
A bit of preparation goes a long way toward making conference interpreting run smoothly. Yet it’s not uncommon for interpreters to be told to just “wing it” during a lecture, only to make embarrassing mistakes later on. (Though hopefully not as embarrassing as those made by the infamous interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial.) Unfamiliarity with the subject matter and heavy use of jargon are just a couple of contributing factors to these kinds of problems.
Briefing the interpreters (lengthy conferences would ideally have at least two interpreters working in shifts) on the topic and giving them the opportunity to ask the speaker questions would greatly mitigate errors during the actual presentation. Also, it would reassure the speaker that his message is being interpreted properly and will be properly understood by all participants. If additional clarity is needed (and if time permits), interpreters can prepare their audience by establishing the signs that will be used for new or unfamiliar words, terms or concepts.
Use Handouts and Visual Aids
Printed materials and PowerPoint slides are effective ways to help your audience follow along with the presentation, even if they miss something the interpreter signed. These handouts can also be taken home for further study.
Because deaf attendees need to keep their eyes on the interpreter, it’s sometimes difficult to take comprehensive notes. For this reason, having pre-printed documentation can be an enormous help. Preparing a transcript of the speech or presentation would also allow audiences to absorb the content of the presentation after the convention is over.
Speakers Should Be Considerate of Interpreters and Their Audience
It is vitally important that speakers modify their lecturing habits to accommodate their hearing-impaired audience members. The speaker has to keep in mind that those needing interpreting will be watching the interpreter, and not him.
When using visual aids or performing demonstrations, therefore, the speaker must give the interpreter time to relay the message before he can call their attention to the slide or chalkboard. While this admittedly slows the presentation down, it does give deaf attendees more time to digest what’s going on.
In addition, reserving seating in the front rows would provide an unobstructed view of the interpreter and the presentation, which makes communication run more smoothly for all involved.
The true measure of a conference’s success is not the number of attendees, but rather the reach and clarity of the information presented. If done properly, sign language interpreting is a great step toward making the conference’s message more accessible and easily understood by the Deaf and hard of hearing.