Donna Williams: S*** people say… to sign language interpreters

Posted on March 12, 2012

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Donna Williams - Contributing Editor

In the midst of my preparations for – or rather avoiding my preparations for Signing Hands Across the Water, I’ve been collecting some information for this post for a little while now.

When my ‘s*** hearing people say… to deaf people’ blog became a surprise hit, I pondered on other possible themes for the meme (ooh, poetry, and I wasn’t even trying) and a chance comment by a Sign Language Interpreter made me think… what DO people say to Sign Language Interpreters?

So I asked a few terps, all of whom shall remain anonymous, and wow. Seriously, wow. I’m assured that most people are not like this, but as the saying goes, there’s always one…

“How long did it take you to learn Braille?”
It’s depressing and fascinating how many terps gave an example linked to Braille, from “do you speak Braille?” to “I’ve always wanted to learn Braille.” What is this obsession with Braille???

*Let’s see if the interpreter can interpret THIS… Insert silly word that is usually easy to interpret*
Grow up.

*Let’s see if the interpreter can interpret THIS… Insert rude word that then gets a laugh – at terp*
No, really, grow up.

“Who do I look at, you or them?”
Sigh.

“Oh no, don’t interpret that!”… the answer is usually “I just did.”
Sign Language Interpreters usually interpret simultaneously. You cannot call things back. And also – Booyah!

“They look a bit angry don’t they?” (Of someone who is just signing)
Do they look angry? Does their face look angry? Believe me, you’ll KNOW when they’re angry.

“Are you the signer?”
Sign Language Interpreter.

“Are you the sign lady?”
No, they’re the Sign Language Interpreter.

“Are you the madam interpreter?”
They’re not a dominatrix! Notice the lack of studded whips and fluffy handcuffs. They’re a SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETER.

“Are you the sign gesture person?”
Nearly, but not quite. It’s SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETER.

“Are you the hand waver?”
Oh, for the love of…

“Excuse me, do you mind not interpreting this? This is a private conversation.” (while on the phone and speaking loudly enough to hear)
Excuse you, if the deaf person was hearing, they’d hear your little tiff with your soon-to-be-ex, just like every other hearing person in the vicinity, in fact I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but a few people are listening. Why shouldn’t the deaf person have the same access to this salacious gossip? Now leave the poor terp alone.

*When asked for more prep (since they had hardly provided any at all)*
“Oh, why? You’re not going to be miming that as well, are you?”
Words fail me. Or should I say mimes…?

“Oh, you work with deaf people? Oh, that’s so nice / wonderful / kind of you.”
Yeah…

“Oh how terrible it must be to be deaf… but I’d rather be deaf than blind.”
That remark would be random at the best of times.

“Do they always use hand signals?”
No, sometimes we use flashing lights, vibrations and touch. Or sometimes we use the medium of dance. Get down, baby!

Speaking of dance…

“Did you train at a dance school?”
Look, it was a sarcastic comment, OK? We don’t really communicate in dance. Except under special circumstances involving nightclubs and hot non-signing people.

“If you lose your job, you can become a ticket man!” *laughs*
I actually had to have this one explained to me; apparently at the horse races, the guys taking bets can communicate odds at some distance with special hand signals to each other. Oh, I see. Ha ha ha.

“If you lose your job, you can get a job as a plane marshal! You know, the ones with the orange flags?” *laughs*
Ha, bloody ha.

“Can I get one like you?”
Get one what? Can you clarify exactly what you mean, before someone calls the police?

“That must be almost as difficult as doing foreign language interpreting.”
Erm, simultaneously interpreting from one language to another, something that’s usually only attempted at the UN, and Sign Language Interpreters do it every day… Almost as difficult, yeah.

“How long have they been suffering from deafness?”
OK, that’s enough, I think I’ve seen enough now.

Or have I? If you’re a Sign Language Interpreter, for your sins, and you have some strange / weird / just plain stupid thing some random person has said to you about interpreting that I’ve missed, don’t keep it to yourself. Get it off your chest in the comments below!

You never know, as well as giving us all a good laugh, we might make a few people think. But let’s do it for the laugh :)

Donna Williams is a deaf writer and blogger living in Bristol and studying part-time in Cardiff. As well as being a postgrad student, she’s a BSL poet, freelance writer, NDCS Deaf Role Model presenter, and occasional performer. In dull moments, she blogs as Deaf Firefly (where this post was originally published) about what she sees as “a silly world from a deaf perspective!”

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