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Sign language interpreters are really for the hearing, so they can feel better about themselves

As if the story about the fake sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service wasn’t bizarre enough already.

The Guardian has published an opinion piece by Slavoj Žižek in which he says that the fake interpreter story, “confronted us with the truth about sign language translations for the deaf“, which he says is, “it doesn’t really matter if there are any deaf people among the public who need the translation; the translator is there to make us, who do not understand sign language, feel good

So, according to Slavoj, sign interpreters are put in place to give people a sense of doing the right thing rather than to improve access for the deaf and hard of hearing.

My initial reaction was that Slavoj’s article was absolute garbage but then, after thinking about it for a minute, I realised there is actually some truth in it. I would like to think the the majority of people who book interpreters for events do so for the right reasons: either they genuinely want to improve access to their event or they have been asked to do so by someone else – but there could be people who just want to improve their own standing as a caring company/individual, after all, people do -->give to charity for selfish reasons.

It was wrong for Slavoj to dismiss all interpreter bookings as feel-good projects for the hearing but I bet he’s not 100% wrong.