The Role of Sign Language Interpretation Services

In an age of digital media, when every show and meeting can have live subtitles, why does your organization still need sign language interpretation? Just ask Rihanna.

Rihanna’s incredible performance at the Superbowl wasn’t the only halftime entertainment. American sign language interpreter Justina Miles also made headlines with her enthusiastic interpretation of the performer’s set.

Much has been written about the importance of closed captions and subtitles for accessibility for the deaf community or hard-of-hearing people – and yet clearly, sign language interpretation is not only as vital as it ever was. It’s also easier to add to your events.

Why Having a Sign Language Interpreter is Important

Why is having a sign language interpreter and interpretation services so important? It boils down to inclusivity.

Proving Access to Content in Native Languages is Inclusive

Many people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing use sign language as their primary or first method of communication. Even people with accommodations like cochlear implants often still use sign language as their primary form of communication.

There are hundreds of sign language dialects throughout the world. The most well-known is ASL or the American Sign Language. Even if someone speaks another language like English, sign language is still their first language – and everyone prefers to communicate in their primary language. Having a sign language interpreter increases language access for meetings of all sizes.

Sign Language is an Accessible Interpretation Service

Many people who are deaf or hard of hearing can still hear to some degree, but doing so daily can be a taxing, draining ordeal. Providing communication with sign language interpreters is an easy, accessible accommodation for every business. Providing accommodations for people with different needs is a simple way for a business to become more inclusive, and show consideration for everyone’s needs.

Adding sign language interpreting to a video or in-person meeting is an inclusive, accessible choice. Increasing accessibility can look as simple as adding a live sign language interpreter to your event or adding a picture-in-picture interpreter. This interpretation can go alongside closed captions or subtitles, but one is not a substitute for the other.

Types of Sign Language

There are hundreds of types of sign language used by people all over the world. Just like spoken languages, they differ based on their language of origin and region of use. Each language has its own grammar and syntax. A few sign languages include:

  • American sign language (also used in many parts of Canada)
  • British sign language
  • Quebec sign language
  • French sign language
  • Italian sign language

Understanding American Sign Language Interpretation (ASL)

The National Association of the Deaf defines ASL as a visual language, although it can also be called a visual-gestural language. It is a language expressed in hand and face movements. ASL is the most common form of sign language used in the US and Canada.

A common misunderstanding of ASL is that this language is simply a gestural form of English, but this is not correct. It is a language that developed separately from English and has a completely different grammatical structure. It has all of the fundamental features of a language, including rules for pronunciation, word order, formation, grammar, and syntax. Because ASL is a visual language, facial expressions, and body language are incredibly important to pass on the correct meaning.

One of the reasons for the differences between spoken English and ASL is that ASL was developed from French sign language, rather than the spoken English language. There is overlap between ASL and French sign language, although they too are different languages. Even within ASL, there are regional variations, or what we would call dialects in spoken language. The region of origin of a signer impacts their rhythm, pronunciation, slang, and other linguistic choices.

ASL and other language accommodations have not historically been made available for the deaf community. But deafness is a difference, not an inherent disability. People who are deaf and hard of hearing can still be active participants in their community and workforce, and deserve appropriate accommodations in doing so. Thus, the importance of skilled interpreters to accurately convey messages.

Making the Most of Sign Language Interpreters

Every sign language is based on two gestures: hand movements and facial expressions. When utilizing a sign language interpreter, it’s important to provide enough space and light to see these two gestures. For in-person events, this can look like designating an area for deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the front to clearly see the interpreter, and ensuring it’s not too dark where the interpreter is standing. For picture-in-picture interpreters, this can include ensuring the video size is large enough to see hand and arm movements, as well as facial expressions. Videos with an ASL interpreter must also consider the lighting and the color of the background for visibility. Every video is different, but the best practice is using a 1:5 or 1:6 video ratio.

As with all interpretation services, qualified interpreters must be fluent in the source and target language, as well as have subject matter expertise. Sign language expands with new terms as all languages do, but it can take time for signers to agree on the signs for new terms or phrases. Having a background in the area of industry your business is in makes it easier for both the interpreters and the signers. You wouldn’t want a sign language interpreter with an educational background to interpret for a medical event.

Depending on the length of your event, you may need more than one interpreter. This is common practice for all language interpretation services. Sign language interpreting is a form of simultaneous interpretation; where the interpreter must listen and interpret the language at the same time. This is a mentally taxing activity. The longer one interpreter has to sign, the more likely they are to make mistakes of omission (basic human errors.) Having multiple signers ready to go at an event reduces the chance of a signing error or one signer getting so tired they’re unable to listen and interpret properly.

If inclusivity and accessibility are important in your business, don’t wait to get started with qualified sign language interpreters. Select an experienced partner who will advise according to your needs and budget. At JR Language Translation Services, we have years of experience providing sign language interpreting services over Zoom and other platforms to help people and businesses overcome barriers and expand language access. Every day, we go the extra mile to exceed your language service expectations. Contact us for a quote for your interpretation services today.

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