Thursday, March 24, 2011

New Zealand sign language interpreter becomes vital communication link for deaf community after Christchurch earthquake

From The Marlborough Express in New Zealand:

What seemed to be a normal booking for sign language interpreter Jeremy Borland (pictured) has taken on a life of its own.

The former Blenheim man has became a vital link to the deaf community following the magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch and he has unwittingly attracted a large online following.

More than 25,000 people have become fans of Jeremy the sign language guy on the social networking site Facebook since he began signing during briefings by Civil Defence and Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker in the aftermath of February 22.

The 30-year-old freelance interpreter who lives in Christchurch said New Zealand broadcasters did not have a good record of providing sign language translation during television programming.

"Quite often the deaf community receive information days later through friends or family and they will usually select information and not leave it up to them to sift through the information themselves," he said.

The former Marlborough Boys' College student had received positive feedback from the deaf community who were pleased to get information at the same time as everyone else.

"They are absolutely amazed and really thankful that interpreters have been provided."

After landing the booking with fellow interpreter Evelyn Pateman, Mr Borland thought the television exposure would be a bit of a novelty with family and friends, but "didn't expect it to take on the life it has".

Mr Parker mentioned on television the Facebook fanpage dedicated to Jeremy the sign language guy, which boosted his fan base even more.

He was now being recognised in public which was an odd feeling, he said.

"I'm a pretty private guy and don't like being in the limelight, so being noticed like some sort of star is very strange," he said.

Mr Borland has been interpreting for about nine years, usually in courts, police stations, hospitals and staff meetings.

Although he had signed for some high-profile people, including Prime Minister John Key and Prince William while they were in Christchurch, he never met them.

"You're right there next to the person you're interpreting for, but afterward it gets busy and people are rushing away," he said.

The eldest of five children, he learned to sign after his younger sister was diagnosed as deaf at about three weeks old.

The family took a proactive stance and all learned how to sign and still use sign language when they were together, he said.

It had "taken a drastic disaster to have this service thrust into the limelight", and the deaf community hoped the translation service was not a "one-off thing", he said.

Access to the news and other types of broadcasting should be provided for deaf people, he said.

"We do have a long way to go, but hopefully this is a good stepping stone to have the gap reduced," he said.