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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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International Perspectives on Sign Language Interpreter Education

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Interestingly, Alade’s wife, Modupe, provided a more effective model of interpreting, which was acknowledged at the time. For example, in 2000, students from Gospel School for the Deaf attended the annual National Disability Games, a sporting competition for all the special schools in Fiji. A teacher from Hilton Special School (previously Suva Crippled Children’s School) was appointed as the interpreter for the day, but she was not making herself understood. Modupe Alade spontaneously stood up and began to interpret as well. This was the first time FJSL had been seen in a public place, and every deaf student was watching her instead of the other interpreter. Her efforts were acknowledged by the Ministry of Education on the day. Wale Alade considers it a breakthrough in interpreting practice:
My sole objective from that moment was for the hearing teachers at the GSD (Gospel School for the Deaf) to know that at such an event, they constituted the EARS of deaf people and they must let the deaf know everything that was said or sounded around even if it did not relate to the main events. I then developed the habit of using different teachers at different events and at the end of each day I often gave on-the-spot anaylsis of their performance. (Alade, 2007)
Alade’s comment about interpreters being the “ears” (but not the mouths) of deaf people, reflects a somewhat patronizing idea of the interpreting role, prevalent in the early days of the profession when religious and other charitable organizations were the main service providers. It denotes a one-way information exchange: from the dominant spoken language to the deaf person, rather than a more balanced and empowering approach. This benevolent advocacy or “helper” model has been noted as a preprofessional stage in many developed countries as well, including the United States (Sanderson & MacIntyre, 1995) and Australia and New Zealand (Napier, McKee, & Goswell, 2006).

Despite Modupe Alade’s interpreting competence and role-modeling, in the absence of a teaching or mentoring framework, her skills were not sufficiently understood or emulated by the majority of the Fiji interpreters at the time. However, a few interpreters did take up some of her ideas, and they began to stand in a more prominent position: up the front and next to the speaker. They also adopted the strategy of working in pairs when church interpreting, using prompts to assist their team member.

Deaf people began to request the services of the teachers from the Gospel School for the Deaf as interpreters (whose signing was seen as closer to FJSL thanks to Wale Alade’s influence) rather than their ASE counterparts at Hilton Special School. As the demand for interpreters grew, Alade was able to start lobbying for interpreters to be paid: “It got to a situation where I asked the service provider to give a stipend to the interpreter. The Human Rights Commission and the Disabled People’s organisation followed the trend and started allocating a budget for interpreters” (Alade, 2007).

Emerging Deaf Leadership and Its Effect on Interpreting

A young deaf leader, Serevi Rokotuibau, began working as a volunteer teacher’s aide at Hilton Special School (HSS) in 1997. He was the chairperson of the Suva Support Group for the Deaf, established under HSS to teach sign language and English classes. In 1999, the Suva Support Group sponsored Rokotuibau’s attendance at the World Federation of the Deaf congress in Brisbane, Australia. In 2000, the Suva Support Group sent him to the Asia Pacific Deaf leadership training program run by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Both these events opened up the “deaf world” to him (Rokotuibau, 2007). He has since graduated as a teacher, and in 2002, was appointed the first deaf teacher at HSS.

In 2002, Rokotuibau worked with Alade to establish the Fiji Association of the Deaf (FAD), with an all-deaf executive. Rokotuibau became President of FAD, the Suva Support Group closed, and FAD took over the work of providing sign language and English classes. From this time onward, local deaf people like Rokotuibau, who were now in more prominent leadership positions, started working with interpreters in an official capacity.

In 2005, with help from the Fiji Disabled People’s Association, a team of 16 people participated in the Deaflympics in Melbourne, Australia. Two interpreters were part of that team: Tina Mareko and Inise Tawaketini. This was a significant achievement for FAD and its leadership—the first time that Fiji was represented at the Deaflympics, and the first time any FJSL interpreters were exposed to Signed Language Interpreting (SLI) at an international level.

A New Kaivalagi Arrives

In 2004, Ruth Spencer, a qualified New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) interpreter, arrived to work as a volunteer with the Harland Hostel. Vivienne Harland had converted her home into a hostel for the children attending the Gospel School for the Deaf and employed both deaf and hearing staff to run the hostel. Children from Kiribati, Vanuatu, and Nauru were coming to Fiji to attend the school, as well as children from other parts of Fiji.


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