Bibi Ayesha, was the first ever Deaf SA Sign Language (SASL) interpreter live on television. Picture: Screengrab
Bibi Ayesha, was the first ever Deaf SA Sign Language (SASL) interpreter live on television. Picture: Screengrab

Ramaphosa's recent address marked a landmark moment, and it involved the sign interpreter

By Shakirah Thebus Time of article published Jul 28, 2021

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Cape Town - As the nation tuned in for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address, the occasion proved momentous as the Deaf community saw Bibi Ayesha, the first ever Deaf SA Sign Language (SASL) interpreter, live on television.

On Sunday, Ramaphosa addressed the nation on recent developments related to the Covid-19 pandemic and civil unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. Ayesha was present signing the address for the Deaf community.

Western Cape Network on Disability (WCND) co-ordinator Natalie Johnson said it was the first time a Deaf person, Ayesha, together with a feeder interpreter (non-Deaf person) was used live on television.

WCND explained how previously a “hearing” (non-Deaf) person who trained in South African Sign Language would be doing the interpreting on TV channels as opposed to Sunday night - which was the first time a Deaf Interpreter (completely Deaf) who did the interpretation via a feeder (person) who is able to hear and is a qualified SASL interpreter.

“The way interpreting usually gets done is the ‘hearing’ (non-Deaf) person who has been trained as an interpreter listens to the speaker and contextualises what is being said, and signs that to the Deaf people who are watching,” Johnson said.

WCND explained that the SASL interpreter did not just “copy and paste” what the feeder was signing to her, but rather interpreted in a language that would make sense to the Deaf viewers.

The organisation added that when interpreting for the Deaf the "hearing person" does not always use mouth and facial expressions to assist the Deaf in understanding the context of the sign being used. In this way the Deaf interpreter understood the context of what was being said via the feeder interpreter and was therefore able to give a better quality interpretation.

“But most of the time the interpreter does not use the facial expressions that need to accompany the sign, so the sign is actually meaningless to the Deaf people watching and they are left wondering ‘what is he/she saying?’.

“Whereas with the feeder interpreter, they listen to the speaker, sign it to the Deaf interpreter and the Deaf interpreter then uses the correct facial expressions with the correct signs, which helps the Deaf people watching to understand exactly what the speaker has said,” said Johnson.

DeafSA Western Cape provincial director Jabaar Mohamed said that a “SASL interpreter is not a third person or helper for the Deaf community”.

“Deaf interpreter is a more linguistic grammatical structure set, which will be understood by the Deaf community.”

Johnson added: “The Western Cape Network on Disability would like to congratulate DeafSA on this huge achievement in South African history, and looks forward to this being the start of inclusivity for the Deaf community in South Africa. The journey for inclusivity is a long and winding road – especially for the Deaf and hard of hearing.”

The WCND said that Sunday night was a first time experiment to see if it would work and how well it would work, and that now it still needs to get government to agree to make this standard procedure for all broadcasts.

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