by Jill Gallacher, Virginia Dugo-Marmalejo and Jude Caldwell
We were fortunate to receive funding from the Heriot Watt Alumni fund to attend the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters conference in Istanbul as it was seen as an opportunity that was too great to miss. As interpreting students, we were not sure what to expect, but having had theoretical training and coming out of our 3rd year language placements we were ready for the WASLI experience. And what an experience that was.
The theme of the 2015 conference was “Human Rights: Where do Interpreters fit in?”
Twenty-eight presentations and two keynote speeches took place over the two main days of the conference.
The first keynote speech was from Dr Robert Adam from the Deafness Cognition and Language (DCAL) Research Centre at University College London (UCL) and Dr Christopher Stone from UCL. They took as their theme “Human rights, Deaf People and Interpreting – Navigating the woods”. Using the analogy of trees in the woods, they delivered a fascinating and enlightening presentation delving into the history of Human Rights and how we as interpreters “fit” into this complex branch network. This very much set the scene for the next two days
Liz Scott-Gibson, WASLI’s Honorary President and Markku Jokinen, Director of the Finnish Association of the Deaf, made the second keynote speech, introducing us to The Dragoman & the Bridge – The Way to Human Rights. They spoke of the professionalisation of interpreters and the progress made over the years. They made reference to their idea that Interpreters and Deaf people working together is a “three-legged race” requiring total co-operation to work efficiently, and presented their ideas in an engaging relaxed, almost chatty manner.
Many of the presentations rendered material that we have been studying over the last three years into a relevant and understandable context using actual interpreter experience. An example of this was Eileen Forrestal’s The Teaming Model, which opened up discussion on “co-created dialogue” and whether a closed process (just pass on information, no discussion, no responsibility) or open process (discuss information before passing on) of interpreting is better for the Deaf client and how the open process should or could work.
Rico Peterson on “Becoming an Interpreter, a sense of place” was also particularly relevant to us and looked at a formal apprenticeship programme at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf. Data collected from a 2012 study of interpreter trainees was examined. This asked them how the newly qualified apprentices spent their time, and how they measured their work, and the data gathered gave a glimpse into the minds of the new interpreters as they moved from the symbolic world of the classroom into the new dynamic workplace. Of particular interest was the notion of a Deaf Mentor, who would observe the students in real time and give support and mentorship to allow self development.
Some presentations looked at the way interpreters are trained and examined the differing viewpoints from both the Deaf and the hearing worldview. Eileen Forrestal’s “Deaf Perspectives in Interpreter Education”, focused on the feeling of powerlessness felt by some in the Deaf community when access to the decision-making process surrounding there communication is denied. She explained her feeling that the inclusion of the Deaf viewpoint in interpreter education should play a critical role.
Other presentations delved into areas of new research, one of which was presented by our own Stacey Webb, Assistant Professor in BSL, on the subject of the job demands and resources of interpreter educators. This took an existing area of research, the Job Demand-Resource Model (Demerouti et al 2001) and focused on one area of it as it pertains to teachers of interpreting.
Another area explored which was of great interest examined the ethical and moral dilemmas facing the interpreters today. McDermid presented “Human Rights for Deaf People: The Impact of Groupthink within Interpreter Cohorts” and Jefa Mweri on “The Deaf as a Vulnerable Group – When their human rights are violated are interpreters equipped to deal with it?”.
One very topical presentation looked at the impact of the “fake interpreter” at Nelson Mandela’s funeral scandal, debating whether the resultant popular awareness raising of signed language interpreting outweighed the damage done to the profession by the event.
The limitations of Deaf people’s access to justice, and the equality or lack thereof for Deaf people in legal settings was presented by the Justisigns team, which includes LINCS professors Jemina Napier and Graham Turner. The project’s remit is to develop training courses for sign language interpreters, legal professionals and sign language users in Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland and the UK.
Prof Jemina Napier and LINCS researcher Robert Skinner also presented an overview of the Insign project “Deaf citizens’ access to European institutions as a linguistic human right: An evaluation of the multilingual Insign project”. The research examined the views of deaf sign language users and interpreters about their experiences of VRS in general and also with the Insign project.
We learned a great deal about the cultural similarities of Deaf communities around the world and even more about the way that users of differing signed languages can utilise the iconicity of their own language to communicate far quicker than hearing people with different language are able to find common ground and communicate.
During the conference an event of great significance was the signing of the “Memorandum of Understanding” by the Federation of Interpreters and Translators (FIT). This organisation has over 100,000 members from around the world and the hope of the memorandum is that it will “unite the voice of professional associations of translators, interpreters and terminologists around the world” (FIT 2015)
WASLI 2015 finished with a boat cruise on the Bosporus in the evening of the last day of conference. This was an extremely valuable networking event as it was possible to talk to all of the presenters, volunteers, attendees both hearing and Deaf in a relaxed environment and discuss and reflect upon the areas that had interested and impacted upon us during the two days of conference. It was also great fun with a full evening of entertainment.
Apart from the invaluable information gained from the presented sessions and keynote speeches, the unquestionable gain from attendance at the WASLI conference was the networking opportunities and contacts we made. We have discussed and learned about the interpreter experience from all over the world, from countries with an established Interpreter training programme to those with a newly emerging profession and no established route to qualification.
We have discussed and debated during lunch and tea breaks various issues from the problems faced by interpreting organisations in some African countries which have a multitude of differing signed languages and their attempts to establish one as ‘official’ in order to facilitate interpreter training, to the problems faced by the interpreters and Deaf Schools in Nepal after the earthquake. We had to communicate in British Sign Language, International Sign and American Sign Language.
As a result of attending this event, we made friends from all over the world that will inform our choices and perhaps our careers for many years to come.
Jill Gallacher, Virginia Dugo-Marmalejo, Jude Caldwell are 4th Year undergraduates at our MA Honours Programme in BSL (Interpreting, Translating and Applied Language Studies)