Improving Diversity in the Field of Sign Language Interpreting

Researchers at three British universities have recently released a study highlighting the need for improved diversity in the field of sign language interpreting and translation. The study, which was commissioned by the Association of Sign Language Interpreters UK (ASLI), found that the vast majority of sign language translators and interpreters (SLTI) in the UK identify as white (89%) and female (82%).

The 139-page report paints a picture of the typical sign language interpreter as a straight white woman in her mid-40s, and noted that Black people and other racial minorities are underrepresented within the larger community of SLTIs, making up less than 10% of SLTIs in the country. The study, entitled “A demographic snapshot of the profession: The 2021 Census of sign language translators & interpreters in the UK,” was led by Jemina Napier, the director of research at Heriot-Watt University’s School of Social Science.

“This study has evidenced what we have suspected anecdotally for some time in the UK profession: that the demographic profile of practicing sign language translators and interpreters does not reflect or represent characteristics of the wider population or the British deaf community,” Napier told Science X, an online news publication covering science and technology.

In May 2020, ASLI established its Equality and Diversity Group, which set out to develop policies for the organization to foster a more inclusive and diverse environment. Globally, there are a handful of organizations dedicated to empowering SLTIs who identify as ethnic or racial minorities, such as the London-based Interpreters of Colour Network, though the community of SLTIs remains relatively homogenous.

As a result, the researchers proposed a total of 20 recommendations in their report, to facilitate change within the field, noting that it’s imperative to recruit more ethnic minorities, men, and disabled individuals as SLTIs, so that the community of interpreters more closely resembles the population of deaf and hard-of-hearing residents of the UK. The report recommends that major organizations for SLTIs work on their outreach efforts to better connect with such individuals, as well as produce more diverse marketing materials and develop mentorship programs for training groups that are underrepresented in the field. ASLI plans to conduct a similar survey every five years in order to track progress in the field.

“It is clear that there is work to be done in ensuring the SLTI profession is representative not only of the wider population, but also of the British deaf community,” the report reads.

Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.


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