Access needs at a Deafblind workshop: reflections of an Auslan Interpreter

As any Deafblind person or organisation will tell you, no two Deafblind people are the same. The access requirements of those who have both vision and hearing access needs are as unique as their fingerprints.

Access needs at a Deafblind workshop: reflections of an Auslan Interpreter

My primary concern when interpreting for a Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HoH) client is language transfer. Do I understand them, and do they understand me? Naturally there are related concerns about register, intent, environment and more that follow on from this, but on the basic premise that my role is to transfer information in a language that is accessible to both parties. Recently I had the experience to work in a setting in which my role as Auslan Interpreter meant a lot more: part of an interpreting team for a Deafblind workshop lead by Deafblind participants.

 

As any Deafblind person or organisation will tell you, no two Deafblind people are the same. The access requirements of those who have both vision and hearing access needs are as unique as their fingerprints. It was important to arrive early to meet with the facilitators to ask them personally how they naturally communicate. Across the three Deafblind facilitators, there was a combination of visual frame Auslan, Auslan, spoken English, and English captions used. For the audience, visual frame Auslan, Auslan, English captions, and spoken English were required. To access spoken and written English, a personal microphone and a microphone & speaker system were required. To access Auslan, one interpreting signing in a visual field, and another signing to the audience simultaneously. This is just one combination of access requirements amongst many possible combinations, depending on the audience and facilitators. The logistics were simple, yet required immense planning prior to the event.

 

This is not a space in which we could afford to be passive; it was crucial to be constantly monitoring that access was provided and ongoing. At all times, depending on which facilitator was presenting, the interpreting team would have one interpreter at the front signing for the audience, one interpreter voicing on the microphones, and one interpreter signing in visual frame or supporting the working interpreters. Additionally, workplace health and safety (WHS) requirements require three further interpreters to share the load of the work.

Part of the presentation included videos that were signed in Auslan, with an English voice-over and captions. 

As luck would have it, the audio turned out to the very quiet, and the captions partially cut off at certain points. For some members of the audience who experience hearing loss with no Auslan skills, I could suddenly imagine how it would feel to have partial, interrupted access. Thinking quickly, our interpreting team took turns to hold the microphones to the speaker to restore the audio. While this looked a bit silly, it was a clarifying moment for me.  How would I feel as a Deafblind person sitting in a workshop, relying on others to provide words that I can read, words to hear, or signs to see? I was brought to reality, and quickly.

 

In this scenario, the greatest challenge was also the greatest success: teamwork. Together, the interpreting team quickly realised that we would need to be constantly checking in with each other, maintaining communication verbally and non-verbally, remaining open, flexible and willing to adjust within seconds. Working as a unit, the team worked to keep space, sound and light at the forefront of our minds at all times. Is my body positioned in a place which is too close or too far? Is it well-lit or blinding to that client? Are my hands moving within a reasonable field of vision? Am I holding the microphones correctly (they can look so different!) or will the captions have inaccuracies? What is looked like was scanning the room actively, open ears and eyes, seeking feedback, accepting feedback quickly openly, crouching on the sidelines, running to the light switch, assessing volume levels, a thumbs up to the voicing interpreter amongst it all who is doing a seamless job despite the hubbub.

 

 

Suddenly the job of transferring information in an accessible way became not one question, but many. It was through the asking these questions of myself and interpreting teammates that we were able to meet the needs of the Deafblind facilitators and audience. In turn, this allowed the  facilitators to take centre stage. Supported in the background, the facilitators presented and sparked meaningful discussions in whichever format was natural to them. For the interpreting team, it was an interpreting assignment, a physical work-out, a logistical puzzle and a trust exercise. For all the challenges, it was doubly rewarding. I reflect on the experience with gratitude to the facilitators for their expertise and for expanding my awareness, but above all the amazing agility and skill of the interpreting team.

Author: Lauren Briigmann.

DeafBlind Australia Full workshop photo

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