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December 14, 2013
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Aspen Camp: Mandela service shows deaf lack equal treatment

Editor’s note: “Bringing It Home” runs weekends in The Aspen Times and focuses on state, national or international issues that have ties to or impacts on the Roaring Fork Valley.

As outreach coordinator for Aspen Camp of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Katie Murch considers the botched sign-language delivery at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service as an opportunity to raise awareness about a rarely discussed issue.

While there remains outrage in the deaf community, perhaps Thamsanqa Jantjie’s apparent bumbling of using signs at the service will go toward elevating awareness about the slights the deaf community often feels, Murch said. That the interpreter was incapable of using proper sign language demonstrates that deaf people are not treated equally, she said. She likened it to oppression.

Murch also noted that the bumbled sign-language interpretation was a “missed opportunity.”

“They could have had a more qualified interpreter, but it’s also a good thing that it happened,” said Murch, who also is deaf. She was able to speak to The Aspen Times in a telephone interview through technology using a person who interpreted the discussion for her. “It helps raise awareness about this, and I think people are finally listening.”

South Africa has no rules in place that interpreters be legally certified to use the country’s sign language, according to an expert who spoke to USA Today.

In Colorado, there’s just one certified sign-language instructor on the Western Slope. That title belongs to Lesa Thomas, executive director for Aspen Camp. Among the requirements to become a certified interpreter of American Sign Language in the U.S. are a college degree and formal training.

“It’s complicated, and it also takes time to learn,” she said. “It’s translating from English to American Sign Language. The languages are not parallel.”

Thomas said she’s often called away from her job at Aspen Camp to perform sign-language interpretation in court hearings that involve deaf people. She can be dispatched from as far away as the Front Range or Utah, she said.

“There are not enough qualified interpreters in the U.S. or on the Western Slope,” she said. “Interpreting, as a profession, is relatively new. In the early ’60s, it was established as a profession, and it’s not easy to become an interpreter because of the court system.”

Said Murch: “We are in America, and we are lucky because we have the (Americans With Disabilities Act) and other laws for qualified interpreters while other countries have challenges. They’re not there yet.”

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The Aspen Times Updated Dec 14, 2013 02:00AM Published Dec 15, 2013 07:06AM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.