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Monday, December 16, 2013

More on Mandela Fraud

More details are emerging regarding the fake interpreter at the Mandela memorial.  The fraud, Thamsanqa Jantjie, was a qualified interpreter hired by the African National Congress from his firm South African Interpreters.  In multiple interviews Jantjie stated he had a sudden schizophrenia attack and was hearing voices and hallucinating. I am far less interested in these sort of details than I am with the way the incident has framed deaf people in particular and more generally disability  There is an excellent article in the Guardian, "The Fake Mandela Memorial Interpreter Said it All". Link: Two quotes leaped off the page for me.

Those of us who hear well and do not understand sign language assumed that his gestures had meaning, although we were not able to understand them. And this brings us to the crux of the matter: are sign language translators for the deaf really meant for those who cannot hear the spoken word? Are they not much more intended for us – it makes us (who can hear) feel good to see the interpreter, giving us a satisfaction that we are doing the right thing, taking care of the underprivileged and hindered.

Now we can see why Jantjie's gesticulations generated such an uncanny effect once it became clear that they were meaningless: what he confronted us with was the truth about sign language translations for the deaf – 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.

The above reminds me of why the ADA has failed. There is no social mandate to support the law. There is never wide spread outrage when the civil rights of people with a disability are violated. No one cares if I can get on or off a bus, train, or plane. No one cares if an interpreter shows up or if they are competent. Let's just make a joke of this. Let's not think about what a person with a disability can do. The only thing others think about is what a person with a disability cannot do. Until this line of thinking is undermined disability rights will remain poorly understood and the sort of advances needed to improve the lives of an untold number of people illusive.