The United Nations has adopted the 2030 agenda with its 17 sustainable development goals in order to achieve sustainable development for all including the disabled. Disability is also referred to in various parts in the agenda, such as in quality education, decent work and economic growth, reduced inequality and so on. As Malaysia has embraced the agenda, this paper aims to study the role of the Malaysian Sign Language Interpreters (SLIs) in helping the Deaf community in terms of enhancing earning the power to fulfil their life needs, their level of knowledge and capability to achieve sustainable development. The study was carried out using questionnaires and in-depth interviews. The results show that the existing roles, as well as future roles suggested to be played by SLIs in assisting the Deaf to achieve sustainable development, are mainly to provide various communication assistance. In addition, there is a positive relationship between the roles of SLIs, Malaysian Federation of the Deaf (MFD), Deaf associations, non-government organization (NGOs), government-linked company (GLCs), community and the Malaysian government to address the welfare of the Deaf community in order to realize the 2030 agenda. Findings also reveal that sustainable development of the Deaf is closely related to the sustainability of Malaysian Sign Language (MySL) and the roles their parents and families play.
Keywords: Disabilitydeafsustainable developmentsign languagesign language interpreters
In 2015, the United Nations adopted a new 2030 agenda based on the principle of ‘leaving no one behind’. There are 17 sustainable development goals that need to be attained in order to achieve sustainable development for all (UN Web Services Section, n.d.a). The Office of The Prime Minister of Malaysia (2015, September 29) released a media statement to express its commitment to support and implement the 2030 agenda. Malaysia is ambitious and has taken initiatives in achieving the 2030 agenda with its 17 sustainable development goals, and these include the well-being of a person with disabilities. The Ministry of Woman, Family and Community Development (2016) developed an action plan for people with disabilities and named it ‘
According to the 2015 statistics report by the Department of Social Welfare Malaysia (2015), there are 8% hearing-impaired individuals out of 365,677 persons with disabilities, which comprised of 29,254 Deaf individuals in Malaysia. This shows that the Deaf community is large in number in Malaysia and their needs should be addressed in order for the country to achieve sustainable development for all. Although the action plan and statistical report reveal increased demand for SLIs, Malaysia is somehow still facing acute shortage of accredited SLIs (Che Omar, 2009; Lucy Lim, 2009; personal communication, 2017). There are only 14 accredited SLIs providing their services to the Deaf community nationwide, through the Malaysian Federation of the Deaf (MFD) (Malaysia Federation of the Deaf, n.d).
Previous researches on the Deaf in Malaysia studied mainly the Malaysian Sign Language (MySL) and the education of the Deaf (e.g., Yahaya-Isa, 2004; Ibrahim, 2017). However, with few exceptions (Chew & Mat Yassim, 2009; Che Omar, 2009; Ho, 2009; Lucy Lim, 2009), not much research has been done to study sign language interpreting in Malaysia. To date, research on the roles of Malaysian SLIs in helping the Deaf to achieve sustainable development has not been found. Therefore, it is legitimate for this paper to study the existing and expected future roles of SLIs in helping the Malaysian Deaf community to enhance their earning power to fulfil their life’s needs, level of knowledge and capability in order for them to achieve sustainable living. In contrast to prior studies, the current study explores the research topic from three different perspectives, namely the SLIs’ perspectives, the Deaf community’s perspectives and the perspectives of the parents of the Deaf.
In Malaysia, the Malaysian Sign Language (MySL), which is also known as
Various studies on the Malaysian Deaf community and MySL have been carried out and the focus was mainly on education. For instance, studies have been done on the support and obstacles faced by students with disabilities in institutions of higher education in Malaysia that were conducted by Toran, Mohd Yasin, Tahar, and Sujak (2009), the Fard Ain’s basic curriculum in MySL for the Deaf (Mohd Rashid, 2015), perceptions of the Deaf and hearing communities on the establishment of MySL in schools and the readiness of MySL training centres in providing trainers for the establishment (Muslim, Shaari, & Abu, 2013), and effective teaching and learning methods (Alias, Mohd Sharif, Baharuddin, Meor Hamzah, & Zahari, 2016; Ibrahim, 2017).
Numerous studies have been carried out on the education of the deaf and the ones performed by Che Omar (2009), Chew and Mat Yassim (2009), Ho (2009) and Lucy Lim (2009) addressed sign language interpreting and SLIs in Malaysia. Che Omar (2009) discussed information on hearing impairment, the connection between hearing impairment with sign language, translation and sign language as well as sign language interpreting. Chew and Mat Yassim (2009) conducted introspective research to compare and contextualize the similarities and differences between signed and spoken language interpreting from the perspective of practising SLIs. Ho (2009) discussed the application of ELAN (Eudico Linguistic Annatator) programme in MySL interpreting and analysis which has enabled the Deaf to provide their feedback and evaluate the SLIs’ interpreting skills. Using questionnaires involving Deaf and hearing respondents, Lucy Lim (2009) studied the characteristics, attitudes, skills and professionalism that should be possessed by a competent SLI. She also suggests that soft skill elements such as assertiveness, self-confidence and self-esteem should be integrated into SLI interpreting courses. These pioneer studies on sign language interpreting and SLIs reflect the importance of SLIs’ role within the Deaf community. Taking into account that the roles of SLIs in helping the Deaf in achieving sustainable development have not been well addressed in previous studies, this paper aims to identify the existing and future roles of SLIs, and their contributions to the current and future life of the Deaf community.
The research questions for this study are: i) What are the existing and future roles of SLIs? ii) How do these roles contribute to the current and future life of the Deaf community?
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is: i) to identify the existing and future roles of SLIs; and (ii) to understand the contribution of SLIs to the current and future life of the Deaf community.
This research adopts a qualitative case study method that emphasizes on extensive and in-depth data collection of respondents’ perceptions on the research topic to understand the current state from three different perspectives. The first stage involved a survey among 8 Deaf individuals in Kuala Lumpur and 10 Deaf individuals in Penang, consisting of 7 males and 11 females and whose ages range between 19-53. The open-ended questionnaire requested the respondents to fill in their demographic profile, as well as answering questions pertaining to the roles of SLIs in helping them to achieve sustainable development. In addition, 5 Deaf parents with deaf and/or hearing children in Kuala Lumpur and 4 in Penang, consisting of 3 males and 6 females and whose ages range from 29-53, answered another set of open-ended questionnaire. The open-ended questionnaire required the respondents to fill in their demographic profile, followed by answering questions pertaining to the roles of parents and SLIs in helping their children to achieve sustainable development. An open-ended questionnaire was used as it was the most time-saving method to collect extensive data from the Deaf. Researchers were available for clarification when respondents were answering the questionnaires.
The second stage involved a series of semi-structured interviews with 4 accredited SLIs, 2 in Penang and 2 in Kuala Lumpur with 17-18 years of interpreting experiences. First, the respondents were required to fill in their demographic and working profiles. Next, questions pertaining to their roles in helping the Deaf to achieve sustainable development were asked. The sample allowed different perspectives towards a specific topic to be collected. Both questionnaires and interviews began with an explanation of the research objectives and guaranteed anonymity.
Through a content analysis of all data, the themes associated with the topic of research were categorized. Findings related to the roles of SLIs in helping the Deaf to achieve sustainable development from three different perspectives were extracted from the questionnaires and interviews. To facilitate the description of the findings, data from three groups of respondents are discussed under each theme that has been identified.
Existing roles of SLIs
Existing roles of SLIs to enhance the earning power of the Deaf
The existing roles of SLIs in enhancing the earning power of the Deaf from the perspectives of SLIs are identified and presented in Table
As indicated in Table
“Since we explained to them how to complete their tasks, they understand their roles and feel more confident and at ease in implementing their tasks. Compared to the situations where they attended courses and training without SLIs, they could not understand detailed practices that were merely based on the notes given (Translation)”.
The findings above are supported by information gathered from the survey of Deaf individuals, in which respondents had admitted that SLIs helped them to get employments. The role of facilitating the business process is also clearly elaborated by a Deaf respondent who runs his own business, “I found it easier to communicate during meetings and dealings with customers who wanted to place orders with the help of SLIs (Translation)”. In contrary, another respondent explained that his job involved only writing so he did not require assistance from SLIs.
From the survey on the parents of the Deaf, a majority of the respondents did not present their opinion regarding enhancing the earning power of Deaf individuals. A possible reason is that their children are still in schools. Only one respondent said that SLIs have helped her child in learning life skills and no further explanation was needed apart from the signing by the SLIs. According to one of the SLIs, “Basically, the role of SLIs is not much, we only convey the messages in communication, the organizer is the one who helps them to achieve the business goal. We will not ask how, as we must obey ethics (Translation)”. This is also supported by another SLI when she explained this, “Officially, the responsibilities of SLIs are limited as we mainly assist in the communication (Translation)”. This finding is in line with the general ethics principles for interpreters, in which interpreters must ensure that they do not take on the roles of other professionals (Ayob, 2013, p. 171).
The above findings show that the roles of the SLIs in helping the Deaf to enhance their earning power to fulfil life’s needs and achieve sustainable development are really about facilitating communication. The success in enhancing their earning power mainly depends on the effort and hard work of the Deaf individuals.
Existing roles of SLIs to enhance the level of knowledge of the Deaf
The existing roles of SLIs in enhancing the level of knowledge of the Deaf from the perspectives of SLIs are illustrated in Table
As can be seen in Table
Findings also show that the SLIs role in enhancing the level of knowledge are not only limited to providing sign language interpreting in formal contexts, but include the sharing of latest information and news on current issues informally via conversations between the SLIs and the Deaf. The important role of SLIs in ensuring the Deaf have access to valid information is clearly elaborated by one SLI when she explained this:
“The Deaf are technology literate, sometimes they already knew [the latest news] and asked us. The only problem is Facebook contains a lot of fake news, they might just believe them, so it is our responsibility to tell them that they are not happening and why we have to explain….If the SLI does not know about it, he/she might not be able to explain it to the Deaf on the spot, but the interpreter will spend some time to study and understand the matter, then explain it to the Deaf (Translation)”.
Another interesting finding demonstrates the diversified mediation roles of SLIs and the technology literacy of the Deaf in which the Deaf are made known that interpreting services are also provided virtually. This is well elaborated by a SLI, when she explained that, “Sometimes they (the Deaf) are busy with their jobs or stay far away from the associations, so they will request for a video call (Translation)”.
Besides that, MFD provides avenues for special education at pre-school level for Deaf children. According to the findings from the survey on the parents of the Deaf, pre-school education provided by MFD enables their children to start learning proper sign language and sign language communication skills.
The above findings indicate that SLIs are mainly playing their roles to help Deaf adults in enhancing their level of knowledge, while hearing or Deaf teachers in kindergartens play important roles in helping Deaf preschool children to improve their knowledge, sign language, communication skills and other relevant skills for their well-being. As a whole, besides other bodies (which is not within the scope of this small survey) MFD could be said to be one of the most important body in providing facilities and assistance for the Deaf to achieve their sustainable development in Malaysia.
Existing roles of SLIs to enhance the capability to achieve sustainable development of the Deaf
The existing roles of SLIs in enhancing the capability of the Deaf from the perspectives of SLIs are shown in Table
As indicated in Table
SLIs also play a proactive role in suggesting and encouraging the Deaf to take up certain courses, if they know the interests of certain Deaf individuals and they have come across those relevant courses. SLIs also accompany Deaf individuals for courses or activities and convey the information that they obtained from the courses/activities to the Deaf in order to facilitate the self-improvement process. However this means extra enrolment fee that needs to be paid for the accompanying SLI, a cost that the Deaf might have to bear. The above findings show that the major roles of SLIs in helping the Deaf to enhance their capabilities to achieve sustainable development are also focused on communication.
Future roles of SLIs in helping the Deaf to achieve sustainable development
The future roles of SLIs in helping the Deaf to achieve sustainable development from three different perspectives are identified and presented in Table
As presented in Table
“For example, I am not an expert in information technology, so when I was interpreting in IT department, I find it difficult to convey technical message accurately. And the Deaf will take a lot of time if they are left to learn a language or a skill by themselves. Thus, I feel that I should improve myself in order to help the Deaf (Translation)”.
This finding shows that SLIs are proactive in improving themselves from time to time and this is in line with the annual skill enhancement workshops organised by the Malaysian Association of Sign Language Interpreter (MyASLI) to ensure improvement in communication skills of the SLIs in order to fulfil the communication needs of the Deaf (Malaysian Association of Sign Language Interpreter, 2014, 2015b).
Several mutual expectations between the Deaf and their parents were identified, namely to increase the number of SLIs, and making sign language interpreting and subtitles available at any time, anywhere, in all electronic devices and all TV/Multimedia programmes. These expectations of receiving equivalent amount of information as hearing individuals are clearly indicated by one of the respondents’ statement, “Provide subtitles or sign language interpreting in every drama, cartoons and so on to facilitate the Deaf to get equivalent information (Translation)”. Five respondents hope that sign language interpreting will be provided at universities and colleges so that they can further their studies there. All respondents unanimously said that the major constraint for them to get SLIs assistance is the insufficient numbers of SLIs. All SLIs also stated that the small number of existing SLIs is the major constraint for them to assist the Deaf extensively. When multiple applications for SLI services are received at the same time, the approvals are made based on priority and urgency. Sometimes they have no choice but to sideline certain applications. According to SLIs, although initiatives have been taken to encourage interested volunteers to become SLIs, acute low pay is the major factor deterring them to become SLIs as the society does not appreciate sign language interpreting or have wrong perceptions that SLIs are volunteers, hence, the services are given out for free. This is well-elaborated when one SLI explained that, “When we told them the rate, they (the clients) will say they have no budget, they will either ask for discounts, cancel the SLIs’ services or ask the Deaf not to join the event (Translation)”. This finding also reflects that Malaysians are ignorant to the needs of the Deaf in improving themselves and this illustrates that efforts to raise awareness on the welfare of the Deaf among Malaysians need to be stepped up. Requesting SLI’s services outside working hours, such as late at night and during weekends, are reasons why the needs of the Deaf could not be fulfilled. At times, SLI rejects a service request mainly because the interpreting contents are contrary to the SLI’s personal principles and moral acceptability that s/he could not compromise. Besides that, expectations of the Deaf and parents of the Deaf as reported in Table
Parents’ roles in helping the Deaf to achieve sustainable development
Besides SLIs who could play their roles in helping the Deaf to achieve sustainable development, findings show that Deaf parents are also playing proactive roles in preparing and ensuring their hearing or deaf children are able to achieve sustainable development in education and life. These include ensuring their children study the syllabus developed by the Ministry of Education Malaysia, sending their children to kindergartens, Schools for Special Needs Children, Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) programmes and tuition centres, and teaching their children using teaching aids so that they can learn effectively and will be able to adapt to the society.
The sustainability of MySL towards the sustainable development of the Deaf
Sustainable development of the Deaf is found closely related to the sustainable development of MySL. Globalisation has its impact on the development of MySL; new vocabularies are borrowed into MySL and this is well illustrated by one of the SLIs when she explained the following:
“For example, the word ‘inclusive (‘Inclusive’ here is referring to ‘inclusive education’ where children with and without disabilities participate and learn together in the same classes.) ’ is unknown to the Deaf, so we (SLIs) will explain its meaning with sign language, if the Deaf community accepts the word, they will create a sign for it and spread among themselves. Then, SLIs will learn the sign from them (Translation)”.
This finding shows that the Deaf community is actively accepting new vocabularies in order to access the latest knowledge for sustainable development. SLIs too contribute to the sustainability of MySL by conveying the new vocabularies to the Deaf, learning new signs created by the Deaf and spreading them through interpreting. This is supported by the remark of another SLI that states that “We do not create sign, because the sign language belongs to the Deaf, however SLIs have to know and learn the signs (Translation)”. Besides that, Deaf parents also use MySL to communicate with their Deaf and hearing children at homes to ensure the sustainability of MySL, which is significant to enable effective communication and knowledge transfer for sustainability in their families.
According to all SLIs, sign language development projects are carried out every year, these include the publications of sign language books, such as books on idioms and verbs, as well as offering MySL workshops or classes to the public and government or private agencies. Sometimes, SLI volunteers try to raise awareness of the existence of the Deaf, MySL and SLIs by providing sign language interpreting in some programmes even though Deaf individuals are not involved in those programmes.
The findings obtained in this study showed that the existing and expected key service role of SLIs is to provide diversified communication assistance to ensure effective two-way communication of valid information between the Deaf and the hearing in order to help the Deaf community to achieve sustainable development. The Deaf hope for more people to join the ranks of the SLIs to fulfil the constant demands. In addition to that, the increment of SLIs’ service rates or salaries is believed to be an effective way that can further encourage the rise in the number of SLIs in Malaysia to cater for the extensive needs. Malaysians should also be more sensitive to the communication needs of the Deaf community and should play their role in providing communication assistance. Sustainable development of MySL is significant to ensure effective communication and knowledge transfer for sustainable development of the Deaf. Therefore, efforts on sign language development should be continued. On the other hand, a significant relationship was not found between the SLIs’ role and Deaf preschool children in sustainable development. This could be due to the fact that their major needs in learning are currently being addressed by their parents and kindergarten teachers. In short, SLIs, MFD, other Malaysian deaf associations, NGOs, GLCs, communities and the Malaysian government are expected to play their roles in addressing the welfare and expectations of the Deaf community. Thus, assistance and roles expected by the Deaf community should be taken into account by these parties for the realization of the 2030 agenda in order to achieve sustainable development for all. Through this principle, none of the Deaf will be left behind without proper guidance and assistance.
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23 September 2019
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Sociolinguistics, linguistics, literary theory, political science, political theory
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Chow, Y. F., & Omar*, H. C. (2019). Deaf Community’s Expectations On The Roles Of Sign Language Interpreters. In N. S. Mat Akhir, J. Sulong, M. A. Wan Harun, S. Muhammad, A. L. Wei Lin, N. F. Low Abdullah, & M. Pourya Asl (Eds.), Role(s) and Relevance of Humanities for Sustainable Development, vol 68. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 606-617). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2019.09.67