Sign language interpreters a first during National Budget presentation

GINA, GUYANA, Thursday, December 1, 2016

The use of sign language interpreters, initiated during the presentation of the 2017 National Budget by Finance Minister Winston Jordan, was a first for the budget presentation in the National Assembly.

Sign Interpreter Sean Thomas in his office the Burrowes School of Art

Sign Interpreter Sean Thomas in his office at the Burrowes School of Art

The Ministry of Finance’s Budget Director, Sonya Roopnauth said the decision was taken after discussions with Barbara Lawrence at the Ministry of Health. Roopnauth explained, “We were taking about budget hearings a couple of budgets ago and people participating, and Finance (ministry) was concerned that people were not fully engaged in the budget process.”

The Finance Ministry official pointed out that if the average person in the street is asked, what he or she thinks about the budget or the process,  they are not really sure what it is about. “One of the things we thought we could do for persons who couldn’t actually hear the speech is to do a sign language version so that you have a broader section of society who are able to access the information.”

The Finance Ministry’s Budget Director noted that feedback will indicate whether the initiative was a success. “When we get the feedback understanding whether that was a useful intervention or not, then we will know if it worked,” Roopnauth stated.

The two sign language interpreters, Mikoowanya Yosef-Yisrael and Sean Thomas are from the Burrowes School of Art. The latter spoke with the government information Agency (GINA), and shared his views on the exercise. Thomas revealed that he learned the art in 1994 and then “became more passionate about it” in the year 2000. For the 46-year old Thomas, it was a chance to help the deaf community, “to focus more on what is happening and on what is in the Budget for them….It is a way to increase awareness so that the hearers will get to communicate with the deaf community.”

Thomas views the move to use sign language interpreters as a starting point for others with similar skills to “come on board, to be on television interpreting so that the message could reach across to the deaf community. Most of the time, the deaf is being left out of what is going on the society.”

Noting that it was a first for himself and his colleague at a National Budget presentation, Thomas said that it was challenging since they were not given a script as is often done to prepare beforehand.

Interpreters are supposed to follow the speaker closely, Thomas explained. “For instance if you give a joke, and you have not gotten to that part as yet and the deaf person sees a set of people laughing, they will want to know, what is it. Now you come up with the translation after, but you are supposed to be in it, so when the persons start laughing they will also get the joke at the same time. So you need the script to be in tune so you wouldn’t be lagging behind.”

Persons wishing to use the services of the sign language interpreters can contact them on 626-9723 or 673-5980, the Guyana Deaf Association, the Guyana Deaf Mission or the Ministry of Education’s Culture Department.


Paul McAdam


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