Sign language interpreters deliver vital daily updates
Pair describe first day working with chief medical officer a `trial by fire'
EDMONTON Albertans joining in almost daily to hear the latest COVID-19 numbers and warnings from Dr. Deena Hinshaw also see Randy Dziwenka relaying her words in American Sign Language for the province's deaf community.
Dziwenka has been working alongside Alberta's chief medical officer of health since the early days of Alberta's pandemic response. Becoming a familiar face at the 3:30 p.m. COVID-19 briefings, Dziwenka works with a partner, usually his lifelong friend Carla Dupras, to relay the latest health information and advice to those who can't hear Hinshaw speak.
After the first daily updates in March went without an interpreter, the deaf community urged the government to bring in an interpreter. That's when Dziwenka and Dupras were contracted from Deaf and Hear Alberta to interpret the daily updates.
“It was different, right? Just really not knowing. It's the unexpected that makes it, you know, awkward,” said Dziwenka, through an interpreter, of his first times interpreting Hinshaw. “But here we are today, eight, nine months later, and it's very much a regular thing now. So I expect that I'll be there until it all goes away.”
As Dziwenka stands in front of the camera near Hinshaw, he is relayed what is being said through signing by Dupras who stands nearby off-screen listening to the speaker.
He said it is best practice to work in teams of two because interpreting requires physical and mental stamina to be done effectively. Dziwenka said the two interpreters work together to ensure they are conveying the correct meaning and intent of what is being said.
After spending the past 43 years teaching American Sign Language at Macewan University and the University of Alberta, Dziwenka retired last year and took training to interpret for media events. He said his training helped prepare him to assist with updates on floods, fires and even tornadoes — but he never expected to be part of a pandemic response.
“Trial by fire is a great way to put it,” said Dziwenka. “Never did we think we'd be working with a pandemic. So, yes, when we got the call to go in, it was absolutely unfamiliar territory for us in terms of what that meant, and what we would have to be doing. So we were figuring it out as we went.”
Dziwenka said there has been hiccups along the way, such as not initially having a script ahead of time, and at first interpreting Hinshaw's speech as more dire and alarming than it was.
“I didn't realize she was quite a calm person and very, you know, just very even-toned, and there's no emergency about her voice,” said Dziwenka. “I had interpreted a little bit more urgency in her and given her a different aspect.”
He said there have also been some buzzwords that have come to the forefront, such as “outbreak” or “alert,” which have been hard to sign.
“If we can make a visual of it, or see a visual of it, then we can come up with a sign that's accurate,” said Dziwenka.
Most of the kinks are ironed out now, said the interpreters, however Dupras said some reporters calling in can be difficult to understand.
“The challenge I think comes from not being able to hear them,” said Dupras. “Or somebody who talks extremely fast and throws out five questions in one statement, or if someone has an accent it can be hard to understand them. So those are the challenges, but we work through them.”
Dupras said her and Dziwenka are just two interpreters that are part of a network of people working across Canada to make sure the deaf community is receiving the most up to date information.
Both Dziwenka and Dupras said they hope the government includes interpreters at all of their updates. Dziwenka said he still hears from the community that they wish other announcements were more accessible.
Crystal Jones, a deaf accessibility advocate, said Dziwenka has been crucial to the deaf community with providing the most up to date information. She hopes the government sees the value of having interpreters moving forward.
“Too often, in the middle of an emergency or a crisis, the deaf community do not always have access to vital information,” said Jones.
“The costs of not supporting closed captioning and ASL means entire groups of people can't access critical information or engage and participate in public discourse.”