Last month, I was one of the 50+ British delegates at the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI) 2019 conference in Paris.

Over the 15 years plus working in this Industry, I have attended many UK based BSL Interpreting and Deaf conferences.  This included an EFSLI conference which was held in Brighton in 2003.  These experiences gave me an idea of what to expect at WASLI.

I was really interested in learning about was our profession across the globe.  I was especially keen to gain an insight into the variance of the provision in the developing world.

We are so privileged here in the UK. Interpreters have access to training and professional standards.  More importantly, we have legislation that allows deaf people the right to access information in a way that suits them.

A global profession

I have always felt that as a profession, we could easily share all that we know with other countries.  By using our combined knowledge, we could further the profession globally.  This would benefit Sign Language Interpreters and, ultimately, deaf people.

I chose my streams carefully at the conference.  Selecting those that would give me an understanding of the current challenges that Sign Language Interpreters face.  I really wanted to contrast and compare the experience in the UK to what others face globally.

The Kenyan Experience

One presentation that stood out for me, was by two Kenyan Sign Language Interpreters.  It was interesting to learn about the actions they’re taking to ‘professionalise’ the profession.  Currently in Kenya there is no consistency in how Sign Language Interpreting Services are provided.  The presenters were taking steps to establish an agency format, which would offer structure to Kenyan Sign Language Interpreters.

Their presentation was fuelled by passion.  Once they had finished, a group of people gathered off stage wanting to take conversations further (me being one of them)!

Working together

Whilst waiting, I met a Director from a Toronto based Sign Language Interpreting Agency.  He was, like me, ready to offer as much support as possible.

Another person waiting was Darren Townsend-Handscomb.  He had spent time sharing experiences supporting Gambian Sign Language Interpreters.

I swapped contact details with the two Kenyan presenters.  Promised to send them useful information post-WASLI.

Collective Action

The ladies collected a handful of business cards and contact details after their presentation.  This got me thinking of Collective Action.

There are a multitude of Interpreters, membership organisations and Businesses working in this Industry.  If we shared all of our knowledge and experience, we could quite literally change the world.

Interpreter Trainer in Israel

I had a like-minded experience last year when I attended a global conference in London.  I saw a Sign Language Interpreter working.  At one of the breaks, I approached her to say “Hi”.  She introduced herself as Talya Shemer, from Israel.  We spent the time sharing our working experiences, which led me to understand her position.  She told me of the lack of training and resources she had access to as an Interpreter Trainer in Israel. 

I left the conversation offering to share all our training materials and, over the past year, we have kept in touch. Throughout this time Talya has shared the impact this has had not only on her, but on her students.  We were reunited at the WASLI Conference where she was excited to have the opportunity to meet Robert Lee – whom she respects and admires very much and follows his work avidly.

I say this not to impress you, but to show you the opportunity we have.

Experiences like these have shaped my belief about how vital this Collective Action is and if these small interactions between individual Sign Language Interpreters can have this impact – can you imagine what this would look like on a global scale.

Here, I pledge my commitment to making this happen – connecting the right people together to use our knowledge and expertise.

If this is something you would like to be a part of, I would love to hear from you!

Whether you’d like to share research, training materials or help us make this happen – please email me at victoria@terptree.co.uk