Sign language is taking the spotlight amid the pandemic

By | April 22, 2020

WINNIPEG — With the barrage of daily COVID-19 updates and press conferences from governments around the world, one language has taken the spotlight amid the pandemic – sign language.

In Manitoba, both the province and the City of Winnipeg have started using sign language interpreters during their live streamed new conferences.

Because Canada ratified the United Nation’s convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, each province is responsible for providing American Sign Language interpretations.

But as interpreter Rick Zimmer explained sign language interpretation is not as simple as other language translations.

Zimmer spoke to CTV News using ASL with an English interpreter.

“It is not English presented as sign language in English word order at all,” said Zimmer, the coordinator of the ASL English Interpretation program at Red River College. “There is very different grammar that is used by both languages.”

While most languages use sound to talk, Zimmer said sign language uses so much more.

“American Sign Language and sign languages are a three-dimensional language that makes use of expression adjectives, adverbs are all conveyed by way of using facial grammar – facial expression,” he said.

Zimmer said there is more than just ASL. There is French sign language, Indigenous sign language, and many more. During a time where accurate health information is vital, Zimmer said it is important people can access that information.

“Having access to our primary language allows for us to fully comprehend the information being conveyed without misunderstanding so that we are clear on the information we need to understand,” he said. “This removes the barrier, so we are fully understanding the ramifications of COVID-19.”

Zimmer said he hopes the wide-spread use of sign language interpreters will continue once the pandemic ends. He said he thinks having sign language interpreters will change the perspective around people who are deaf.

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