The well-being of sign language interpreters in rapidly changed and ever changing times

2020 has ended and what a strange and challenging year it has been. (by Isabelle Heyerick, WASLI newsletter, January 2021)

schedule 1 feb 2021

It has also shown us how resilient we can be and how we, no matter what, are and stay connected. Our profession had to respond and adapt to the new reality of interpreting during a pandemic where we find ourselves “locked down”. And whereas we have tackled the practical and technological challenges, turned our homes in interpreting studios and trained ourselves in becoming tech-savvy, what have we done to make sure that we are coping with these changes on a personal, psychological and emotional level?

In November, WASLI Secretary, Isabelle Heyerick as the founder and Vice-President of Tenuto vzw (an organisation offering continuous professional development for Flemish Sign Language interpreters) co-organised and attended a webinar on reflection through the concept of mirror play facilitated by Lianne Nap. The webinar invited colleagues to reflect on how the physical and technological changes impact their overall energy and how they can tip the scale to the positive.

At the end of this webinar the impression remained that signed language interpreters have addressed the technological adjustments but are neglecting the mental strain interpreting from home is posing. It is necessary to know the technological and practical ins and outs of interpreting during a pandemic: the technology and equipment we need to be able to do our job. However, it is also necessary to know what we need to safeguard our mental well-being. Lianne pointed out: we are our own tool, there is no replacement if we break. This is especially true when professional and personal boundaries are blurred and our work enters our private homes, and vice versa. We are currently not only interpreters working from our own home, we are also all the other facets of our person in that home, managing our personal, private and professional lives (and the ones we interpret for and with) in one space. The impact of this changed reality should not be underestimated and should be addressed so that we can continue to do the job we love.

WASLI encourages interpreter associations and organisations to explore opportunities to devote attention to this topic and ways to address it. For instance, some of our regions have established closed Facebook groups where interpreters can discuss the challenges and support each other. In the side banner (above) we gladly provide other examples of what organisations have offered or are offering to their members, which can serve as inspiration. However, if an organised approach is not (yet) possible, getting in touch with your colleague(s) to have a “we are in this together and we will get through this together” chat might be simply enough.