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  • Writer's pictureMarium Nadeem

Producing sign language interpreters

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

ConnectHear has always been dedicated to the cause of safeguarding and advancing the interests of Deaf people. We share a common mission to promote sign language literacy and build positive public attitudes towards the Deaf community. With the humanitarian vision of making Pakistan an inclusive place to be in for this linguistic minority, we are enthusiastic about training individuals to not only learn sign language but to become skilled interpreters.

This idea inspired the start of the YES (Youth & Exchange Study) Pakistani Sign Language Training program. It was targeted at easing the communication barriers that the Deaf community has been grappling for the past seven decades. As YES Alumni, the team’s dedication to create their own interpreter workforce and to provide a voice for the deaf was unswerving.

Azima Dhanjee and Arhum Ishtiaq, our CEO and CTO respectively, as advocates of the Deaf community, selected a group of 20 students who had prior knowledge and understanding of PSL. Having previous knowledge ensured their pre-established connection to the Deaf community and in creating a professionally close-knit network. These individuals were trained every weekend for the duration of 4 months totalling up to 36 classes. The PSL Interpretation Training Program was aimed at providing formal sign language training and informing hearing individuals of the history of sign language – its vocabulary, grammar, interpretation rules, variations, visual elements, and culture.

The project not only included certified sign language training but also involved actively being involved with Deaf people – through the means of visiting deaf schools and organisations, meeting and interacting with Special Educators, and participating in on-field work with them. In seeking to join the two worlds together, trainees intermingled with the community by means of events like Eid Milan Party, Youth Activity Day, and Deaf Theatre Competition. This gave them the opportunity to use their learned skills to interact with the desired audience.

The training taught them to introduce themselves, sign upper and lower case alphabets, common phrases, numbers, its syntax, full-on sentences, finger-spelling, and a whole set of vocabulary. All participants were briefed on their conduct, adherence to professional guidelines, the code of ethics, and written and unwritten rules. They were taught to interpret dialogues effectively without distortions and alterations to convey the spirit of the message – whether they’re interpreting in-person and through video-calling.

Aliya Afzal, emphasising on the significance of body language and facial expression when signing, said, “I am extremely pleased with this class. During the orientation, I lacked confidence in myself but being a part of this project has made me learn so many things that I was previously unaware of. Kudos to the attentive and brilliant trainers for improving everyone’s signing skills and boosting my confidence.”

Another trainee Urooj Zia continued to add that while the course outline was “rigorous and comprehensive”, the instructors were “passionate, empathetic, and humane,” something she had “not quite frequently witnessed in the education sector of Pakistan”. On another quick note, Urooj said that she could now confidently state that she could hold “a little-more-than-basic conversation in PSL”.

The aftermath of this 16 week training was a set of enthusiastic professional interpreters that would continue to contribute towards bridging the gap between the hearing and the deaf. YES PSL Training was a mere beginning to facilitate deaf-hearing communication and the production of a whole array of experienced interpreters; a conference that skyrocketed the country’s headcount of interpreters for the years to follow.

The graduation ceremony was hosted by GLOBE, a shared, interactive space by SiE’s to conduct various training programs. Farah Shafi Kamal, the Executive Director of the YES Program, recognised the efforts of all participants and handed each one of them their certificates – a jubilant end to a fruitful journey.

“This has been an enthusiastic journey for both the trainees and the trainers. Sign language is a beautiful language and I hope in the future, more people join us to learn it. I am pleased to see the enthusiasm of our participants in creating a more accessible space in Pakistan,” said Muhammad Osama, the former Lead Sign Language interpreter at ConnectHear.

The core objective of this training was to ensure the deaf don’t suffer at the hands of marginalisation and denied services anymore – bringing an end to their extended struggles and lifelong frustration. Be it in a one-on-one conversation, a group session, an office meeting, a courtroom hearing, or an academic/medical need, our interpreters are now skilled at making public spaces more deaf-accessible, diverse, and inclusive for Deaf people.

With the increasing need for interpreters in social and workplace situations, in peer interactions and healthcare settings, in public accommodation and telecommunications, this collaboration between YES and ConnectHear was much needed. Having organised Pakistan’s first ever extensive interpretation program, we are culminating an end to their isolated environment by producing proficient interpreters who help us in our goal of eradicating communication barriers by providing sign language classes and interpretation services.

We hope that everyone in the hearing community realises the power and responsibility they hold in changing our society and enabling the deaf in a dominant hearing culture – in the need to come together in strengthening our purpose.

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