Vetting Process of Sign Language Interpreters Underscored Following Fake Interpreter at Mandela Memorial

Dec 16, 2013, 14:58 ET from SignTalk Foundation

NEW YORK, Dec. 16, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- As the criminal background of 'fake interpreter' Mr. Thamsanqa Jantjie came to light less than 48 hours after the memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela, SignTalk Foundation – a non-profit organization, refocused the message of the breaking story to the importance of vetting and screening Interpreters for the protection of the Deaf community.  The priority and attention to serving the Deaf and Hard of Hearing would have been a fitting memorial and legacy for "Madiba" – Mandela.

The mission of SignTalk Foundation, Inc. is to promote, foster, and advance public awareness of the use and standards of sign language interpreting services, to protect the interests of the Deaf community and to educate the public as to the need for Sign Language Interpreting and adherence to the rights as outlined by the ADA and other rights organizations. 

While the story initially attracted attention due to the nature of the high-profile setting – the breaking story turned increasingly troubling as Jantjie revealed his mental illness, and his criminal history was uncovered.  The lack of concern and attention of all government agencies involved in the organization of such a monumental event is a complete travesty. More than an apology is needed – it is clear that the agencies involved must be held accountable so that such vast lapses in security never happen again. 

Sign Language Interpreters are charged with a tremendous responsibility for providing equal access. The 'given' is that the professionals are in good mental health and vetted for criminal background – neither of which was done in this circumstance. These are basic prerequisites that leave no room for compromise. SignTalk Foundation promotes the standards of method and integrity of establishing a qualified Interpreter to present competent interpretation, with the safety and protection of the individuals as the cornerstone.  

SignTalk LLC consultant, Jon Wolfe Nelson, an RID Certified American Sign Language Interpreter, appeared on CNN New Day after the story broke. "At SignTalk all interpreters are vetted for their credentials, they are screened and personally interviewed," he stated. The violation is not only a security issue, but a trampling of the rights of the Deaf community. As Nelson told CNN: "He (Thamsanqa Jantjie) silenced his voice because he decided to do a fraudulent thing and cut off access to deaf people all over the world to messages being delivered on this historic day."

"The role of Interpreting Agencies is to decisively screen and vet the bona fides of Interpreters who will interact with the Deaf Community," noted Dr. Joseph Geliebter, clinical psychologist and founder and Executive Director of SignTalk Foundation, Inc. "We, along with our Interpreting professionals and clients, hope to turn this story into a teachable moment. Deaf consumers should feel confident that the agencies which provide them equal access are doing their job properly."

To screen potential risks, vetting Interpreters can include an initial fingerprinting and background check from a federal agency.  Interpreters are interviewed in person and a videotape review is conducted by a highly qualified and certified Interpreter. SignTalk LLC provides Interpreting Services for children, government officials, health responders, educators, and adults in a variety of educational and medical situations. Distinguished venues utilizing SignTalk LLC's  services include the 2011 Presidential debate between Obama and McCain and, more recently, the acceptance speech of NY Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio. Criminal background checks and in-person and video review are standards for SignTalk, and follow the standards of both RID (Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf) and SignTalk Foundation's mission statement.

For more information about SignTalk Foundation, please visit or contact Brenda Yagmin at 718-382-2020/ 917-502-1428 or Dr. Joseph Geliebter at 917-855-7578. SignTalk has experts available to comment and advise on issues in relation to Interpreting standards in general and in the South African rights issues.

SOURCE SignTalk Foundation