Sign language interpreters mocked online for daily Government COVID-19 updates

Sign language interpreters have been attending the daily COVID-19 briefings.
Sign language interpreters have been attending the daily COVID-19 briefings. Photo credit: Newshub

Sign language interpreters working to provide the deaf community with updates on the latest COVID-19 information have been put under pressure from people mocking them online.

Deaf Aotearoa and the Sign Language Interpreters Association of New Zealand (SLIANZ) say interpreters are being made fun of through memes and online parody videos.

During the COVID-19 response, there have been six New Zealand sign language (NZSL) interpreters working with the Government to update the public every day.

Sign language is one of New Zealand's three official languages and an interpreter is often seen when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield make their announcements which are widely televised.

They say some of the recent comments made on social media have been particularly disrespectful, such as calling the interpreters "distracting" or "unnecessary" and making fun of them.

President of SLIANZ Micky Vale says: "Sign language interpreters are working in a very fast-paced, challenging environment and this requires a high degree of skill. 

"In providing access to deaf people in this way, interpreters are having to place themselves in the limelight which can be stressful in itself and NZSL interpreters do not need the added stress of being made the butt of jokes or negative comments."

She said while many people may think it is an "innocent enough joke", it distracts from the importance of the situation.

President of Deaf Aotearoa Oliver Ferguson says the interpreters are working hard on seven-hour shifts over a seven-day week schedule to bring important information to the public.

"In times of crisis, NZSL interpreters have an important job to ensure the deaf community have access to the same information that other New Zealanders do," he says.

"And, for many deaf people who use NZSL as their first or preferred language, NZSL is the only way to access information.

The organisations are asking the public to show their respect for deaf people and their language.