Thursday, November 1, 2012

Media Scrutiny of Interpreter Lydia callis

If you have been following  the news recently, there has been circulating story about sign language interpreter who interpreted for New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg during his news brief about Hurricane Sandy. Some news media have focused their attention on the interpreter and her facial expression  during her interpretation which i think   is not good for professional interpreters and sign language users. .

The news media are making fun of how sign language facial expression can be amusing  and how it can redirect the attention from the main speaker to the interpreter. Instead of thinking about the importance of this language, New York times writes about the interpreter Lydia,  “With her smartly coiffed short dark hair and sharp suits, she literally throws her whole body into signing, from her head to her hands to her hips”.  While this statement may sound as praising for some people,  I feel that is disrespectful to the interpreter. They did not have to talk about her look or her body. Nicole Steinberger an  interpreter at Rochester Institute of Technology(RIT)  who is also women’s senator at RIT student government says,“ While I think the world should have a better understanding of sign language, interpreting, and Deaf culture, I do not think it should be at the expense of an interpreter's self worth. Our work is our work, it's not about our hips or hair, and when the media takes it to that level, the real message is completely lost”.  I just hate how these media would do anything to make money.

Daniel Maffic, sign language instructor at National Technical institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology says ““For people who do know me but are unfamiliar with the work that we ASL/English interpreters do, please know that it takes a lot of time and training to do what we do” He further added “ I am disappointed with America's response to the "Hurricane Sandy interpreter".   The work of an interpreter takes a lot of training mentally  and physically. It has never been easy for interpreters to deliver messages in sign language where interpreters have to listen and sign at the same time.

Sign language is a beautiful  language that deaf people  use. I am glad that our beautiful sign language is getting an attention, however, at same time, I disagree with how  some media are making it as an amusing language instead of showing it as very effective and wonderful language. I am very impressed with Lydia’s skills,  and how she was able to deliver the message to Deaf people  in a perfect way. I am sure it was not easy for her  to interpreter in such difficult times.. Kudos sign language interpreters!


  1. I'm a sign language interpreter in Australia, and we've had similar experiences when we had an emergency situation that required interpreters to be on the scene at press conferences with mayors and premiers. While it's nice to be recognised for providing a service, it always seems to come across by the media as patronising and condescending. Great article, it expressed how I feel when I see the media reports about our work and about the language and community we're privileged to know.

  2. Genolgra

    I agreed with you. Media need to understand that interprets facial expression is not amusing or animating. It is a a language!

  3. For someone like me who isn't (still) used to having ASL used around me at all times, sometimes the expressions are a little funny, but I understand that it's literally a grammar structure and aids in creating nuance in a language. You can't expect America or any large public to be as understanding as you might wish. Even in languages that are more common, there are still reactions much more damaging and alarming than the surprise associated with seeing American Sign Language for the first time.

    Not too long ago, I heard from a friend about a mutual acquaintance that he thinks all the 'brown languages' should be destroyed and only English should be spoken. That's scary. Reacting to seeing ASL, while it's unfortunate that it rather objectified the woman, it is a HUGE adjustment for a hearing person to look at the deaf/hh person with whom they are speaking when they can't actually understand that person, rather than the interpreter who is speaking, and then when ASL is being used, it is motion and interesting motion for those who aren't around ASL all the time.

    Also, in classes, I have second year friends who still sometimes get caught up in watching the interpreter rather than listening to the professor during lecture. And even here at RIT, surrounded by deaf culture, on many hearing person's 'list of things to do at RIT' is to use the word 'penguin' in their presentation because the sign for it is rather fun to watch.

    I'm not saying it isn't a little juvenile, and lacking an understanding response, but it could be very negative rather than just a little immature. The knowledge just isn't out there because most people haven't ever been exposed to any sort of deaf adventurers :)

  4. Alexis

    Not only media made fun of the interpreter's facial expression because of their lack of education about deaf culture, but to make profit. We know that these days media news are profit oriented instead of goal oriented. They don't write articles just to give news to the people but to make money from it. Hence, their mocking on the interpreter was to attract uneducated people to make money.

  5. Body language or facial expressions have nothing to do with interpreting sign language. Although, I have to agree with you. Lydia’s skill is really impressive. With interpreters like her, the deaf will be able to communicate with more clarity.

    1. Lynelle

      Exactly! that is the my argument. I know personally well Lydia's. She does has great interpreting skills that I admire. She has interpreted me for a class. She is amazing!