Deaf Interpreting in New Zealand

Connect Interpreting was awarded funding for their Deaf Interpreting: Pathways to Qualification (Workshop) project in the first round of the NZSL Fund.

No one likes to be misunderstood. Feeling like your conversation partner understands you, and likewise feeling like you can properly comprehend them, is essential for effective communication. Deaf people are no different, but when communicating with non-New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) users they may need an interpreter to help facilitate the conversation.

Sometimes there is an extra need for accurate interpretation appropriate to a Deaf person’s linguistic, cultural and life experiences. In many countries overseas, Deaf people working alongside hearing interpreters are employed in high risk situations such as court or medical settings, or whenever a Deaf person encounters extra challenges to communicating effectively (for example if they are seriously ill or injured, or if their first language is a different sign language to the one being used in a given situation). Deaf Interpreters, as native sign language users who have lived experience of Deafness, are vital in such situations. Deaf Interpreters are also employed at international conferences, in the media, and in translation work.

Recognising this, a group of Deaf people have joined together to advance the training, qualification and provision of Deaf Interpreting in New Zealand. The group will be known as Deaf Interpreting New Zealand (DINZ). Hearing Interpreters, in particular Connect Interpreting and the Sign Language Interpreter Association of New Zealand (SLIANZ), are supporting DINZ to achieve these goals.

On 13 June 2015, DINZ held a workshop to explore pathways to a qualification for Deaf Interpreting in New Zealand. Experts from Australia and two New Zealand universities were invited to speak.

Darlene Thornton presented first, discussing funding and qualification issues. Unlike in Australia, there could be some access to funding for Deaf Interpreters in New Zealand (for example through Workbridge). However there are already some qualifications available for Deaf Interpreters in Australia through the Deaf Relay Interpreter Certification Project (DRCIP) and the National Accrediting Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI).

 Deaf Interpreting NZ

Photo caption: Deaf Interpreting NZ - Laying the Foundations with Darlene Thornton.

Both are not without issues. For example, NAATI has no way to  recognise different levels of skills for interpreters. To date only 15  people have been awarded NAATI Deaf Interpreter recognition. Many Deaf  Interpreters have also reported facing issues around the demand and  reliability of work, lack of awareness and training, lack of promotion  and competitiveness with hearing interpreters.

Darlene had several recommendations for the Deaf Interpreter  profession, particularly around the need for more research, mentors and  team interpreter training.

The second speaker, Dr David McKee from Victoria University of  Wellington, stated that while Victoria University can offer relevant  training to Deaf Interpreters in the meantime, they cannot provide a  qualification, as any course needs to be approved at the Government  level by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority.

Dr George Major from Auckland University of Technology (AUT) spoke  next. She strongly agreed with David, and felt similarly that while AUT  offered several courses that could be used for Deaf Interpreter  training, any qualification would need to start with the Government.

The group has formed a committee, developed a Vision Statement,  attended workshops on practical aspects of Deaf Interpreting, and begun  fundraising. Moving forward, DINZ will focus on two main areas:

  • exploring pathways to qualification, curriculum, training and standards
  • investigating potential working environments for Deaf Interpreters;  how the NZSL Act could support the initiative; the need among the Deaf  community; and employment opportunities.

To achieve their goals DINZ will be working closely with SLIANZ, AUT  and Victoria University, as well Government agency stakeholders such as  the Ministry of Social Development, along with the NZSL Board.

Clearly there is more work to be done, but through this workshop the  first steps have been taken to advance Deaf Interpreting in New Zealand.  This will no doubt contribute to better outcomes for Deaf people across  New Zealand.

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