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COVID-19 Sign Language Interpreters Under Pressure Due To Online Criticism

Deaf Aotearoa and the Sign Language Interpreters Association of New Zealand (SLIANZ) say sharing online parody videos and memes of New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) interpreters causes added stress on their interpreters who are providing access to important COVID-19 information to Deaf people.

The daily presence of NZSL on our screens during times of crisis is a novelty to many viewers of media briefings and government updates and so interpreters become a focus of attention. While the New Zealand public largely understands and welcomes the fact that everyone has a right to access crucial information, including Deaf people through one of our three official languages, some recent comments made on social media have been particularly disrespectful, such as calling the interpreters “distracting” or “unnecessary” and making fun of them.

Oliver Ferguson, President of Deaf Aotearoa, says there are currently six highly-skilled and experienced NZSL interpreters working on the government COVID-19 response. They work seven-hour shifts and are rostered across a seven-day week.

“In times of crisis, NZSL interpreters have an important job to ensure the Deaf community have access to the same information that other New Zealanders do” he says. “And, for many Deaf people who use NZSL as their first or preferred language, NZSL is the only way to access information.”

Deaf Aotearoa has been working very closely with the government, including the Prime Minister’s office, to provide Covid-19 information in NZSL for Deaf people. New Zealand is doing a good job of ensuring Deaf people are not left behind in accessing information and support in this time of crisis. We are all in this together and ask that the public show their respect to Deaf people and their language.

Micky Vale, President of SLIANZ, says "Sign language interpreters are working in a very fast-paced, challenging environment and this requires a high degree of skill. In providing access to Deaf people in this way, interpreters are having to place themselves in the limelight which can be stressful in itself and NZSL interpreters do not need the added stress of being made the butt of jokes or negative comments.”

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