• Alysa Salzberg

Why we need more people of color to become sign language interpreters

It’s wonderful to see increased inclusion and diversity in the media and many other areas of our lives. But sometimes, you might wonder if a company or organization’s push for these things is coming from a place of necessity and sincere desire, or if it’s just following along with another “trend” that will draw attention or even bring in money.


At first, the latter motivation may seem to be behind this recent headline from WXXI News: “More people of color are needed as sign-language interpreters.”


But a sign language interpreter’s race and culture really do matter.


We tend to think of sign language as something uniform. After all, while spoken languages may involve accents and dialects, sign language doesn’t, right? Actually, it does.


And while spoken languages are tied to (a) specific culture(s), sign language is a tool used by deaf people to communicate within their culture. There is no deaf culture. Also wrong.


In addition to the deaf actually having their own culture and subcultures, the spoken-language culture(s) they interact with is/are also multifaceted.


As the article that goes along with that headline points out, a person of color, whether deaf or hearing, may grow up in an environment with specific vocabulary and cultural touchstones.


A sign language interpreter may be able to communicate basic ideas, but they won’t necessarily understand and be able to accurately convey these subtle parts of the culture unless they, too, belong to it.


Read on to learn more about why diversity is so important in the world of sign language interpreting, and an initiative that’s been created to increase the number of sign language interpreters who are people of color.



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