About a year ago, we wrote a blog post called ‘New Doors Are Opening Around the World for the Deaf,’ about how language barriers for deaf people are beginning to come down around the world. Over the past year, several ASL (American Sign Language) interpreters have gone viral, highlighting the growing recognition of the deaf community and its culture. One ASL interpreter in particular, Amber Galloway Gallego, stands out for her impressive sign interpretation, and for being a fierce advocate of the deaf community.

Praise

ASL interpreter Amber Galloway Gallego went viral on numerous occasions by sign interpreting at many famous artists’ concerts. Videos of her keeping up with rap artists like Kendrick Lamar and Twista got millions of views. Called the “Jay-Z of Hip-Hop Sign Language,” Gallego also performs with other artists such as Lady Gaga, Cher and The Black Keys. Signing music is considered to be a niche skill requiring a tremendous amount of work, and Gallego is recognized as one of the best.

Gallego has used her viral fame to bring attention to the deaf community, advocating for increased inclusion within the arts specifically. “Music is so much more than sound travelling through the ear. Deaf people experience music as intensely as anyone else, just in a different way. I believe music with a message should be accessible to everyone. Deaf people should also experience that feeling of connectedness, of feeling included.”

Gallego is not the only ASL interpreter getting praise. One ASL interpreter went viral after signing Beyonce’s ‘Get Me Bodied’ at Atlanta Pride. Another sign interpreter stole the show at a Slayer heavy metal concert. However, ASL fame isn’t limited to music. Recently, the New York Times featured an article highlighting the skills of a sign language interpreter at an NBA postgame press conference. 

Criticism

Unfortunately, criticism is never far away when anything goes viral. To counterbalance all the positive stories about sign language interpreters, stories about interpreters signing utter nonsense tend to resurge. For example, back in 2013, at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie reportedly made no sense in any of South Africa’s 11 official languages. Bruno Druchen, director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa, said Jantjie was “moving his hands around, but his gestures had no meaning.” Click here to watch a clip. The interpreter claimed to be having a schizophrenic episode, but his qualifications as an interpreter remain dubious, as he has refused to demonstrate his skills afterwards.

Lilit Marcus, CNN reporter and child of deaf parents herself, did not rejoice in the fact that so many ASL interpreters are going viral. “Too many hearing people see signing as performance art instead of a living, breathing language that many people use to communicate basic thoughts and needs every single day. It does a huge disservice to interpreters and their profession. For the dozens of profiles and hot takes written about Gallego, there are no such accompanying stories about discrimination, lack of access, and other real-time issues facing the deaf community. I’ve personally witnessed festival and event organizers boast of the accommodations they’ve made for accessibility because they installed wheelchair ramps, only to see zero captioned movies or ASL interpreters. As long as we continue to praise interpreters for being fun enjoyment for hearing people, we will not put deaf communities and their needs above the value of potentially having a video of an event go viral.

Interpreter Intelligence Empowering the Deaf Community

Interpreter Intelligence is partners with the largest Sign Language Service Provider in the world, as well as several other LSPs focused on sign language service delivery. We have optimized our product to support sign language scheduling, and we have made sure all product support materials include captions so deaf interpreters can take full advantage of our platform. For some customers, we have gone the extra mile by providing training with ASL support. If you are a Sign Language Provider, contact us to see how Interpreter Intelligence can help your business!

 

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